PETALING JAYA: Being a Penangite, Star Publications (M) Bhd group managing director and chief executive officer Datuk Seri Wong Chun Wai had been curious about the penal colony of Pulau Jerejak as a young reporter and had asked Karpal Singh to take him there.
Wong, who joined The Star in Penang in 1980, covered the courts. It was in the courts that he met Karpal.
He said for many Penangites, Pulau Jerejak was a mysterious island where hardcore criminals were detained under Emergency regulations.
“I told him that I’d like to go there and Karpal said: ‘No problem, but you cannot go as a reporter but as my assistant’.”
He then told Wong to wear black and white the following day and carry his bag.
The boat that would transport people there broke down that day and they ended up hopping onto a boat filled with watermelons, convicts and prison wardens who were bringing food to the island.
“The convict and wardens ate some of the watermelons on the boat and gave some to us too,” he said.
Once on the island, Wong was introduced as the legal assistant, and he got to see life there.
Wong also recalled that as a rookie reporter doing his court rounds, reporters used to fear one magistrate who would openly reprimand reporters who reported cases incorrectly.
Having no knowledge of court processes, he used to call Karpal three or four times whenever his case was involved at the court to get his information right.
“He’d patiently answer every call without losing his cool even though he was busy, and told me how it should be phrased and quoted,” said Wong.
Karpal’s office was in Green Hall then, across the road from the Penang court complex and a five-minute walk from The Star office in Pitt Street (now Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling).
Wong also recalled that the High Court would be full of people whenever Karpal turned up for high-profile drug trafficking cases involving foreigners because people wanted to see how he “performed”.
“Karpal was practically holding court in the High Court,” he said.
It was through court reporting and Karpal that Wong said he got into political reporting because many lawyers then were also politicians. Karpal was not just a Penang politician but also a national figure.
Wong said the public saw Karpal as outspoken and aggressive but he was actually soft spoken, and at times, shy.
Until he sued Utusan Malaysia and won in December 2012, he had never been known to take legal action against any newspaper.
Karpal was awarded RM50,000 in damages after the High Court ruled that Utusan Melayu (M) Bhd had defamed him in the article “DAP diingat jangan bakar perasaan orang Melayu,” published in Utusan Malaysia on Aug 25, 2008.
Wong said Karpal’s life was always open to all media, even to those who seemed unfriendly to him, and he was ever ready to provide legal service to journalists who faced problems in their profession.
State funeral for Karpal
Gobind: Father insisted on travelling by car at night
Michael — shy man whose care spoke volumes
A fighter and a gentleman
‘Don’t play the fool’ and other quotes by Karpal Singh
Karpal Singh, my loving husband
Najib: Karpal a formidable opponent
Pakatan colleagues praise Karpal’s indomitable spirit
Old foes and friends all pay tribute
An inspiring teacher and friend
Death of a hero, birth of a legend
Tiger, tiger who burned bright
Karpal the politician
Karpal the lawyer
Old days of Karpal
From hospital to his home