Monday, April 30, 2012

Bersih 3.0 - New Experiences, New faces, Same Fight, Same outcome - The fight for the country continues

 Bersih  - 10 November 2007 - 10 years after Reformasi, street rallies were still taboo. Street rallies were still deemed illegal, but we went anyway. The objective was to march to the Palace and to deliver the memorandum to the Agong for cleaner elections. Reports back then said around 30,000 - 50,000 people. Mission accomplished. This is the link to my experiences after Bersih and what happened thereafter, back in 2008. First account of teargas and water cannons. Something new.

Bersih 2.0 - 11 July 2011 - ILLEGAL! The PM, Home Minister and practically the govt had a pre-emptive strike to stop Bersih 2.0 from happening. Bersih 2.0 was ILLEGAL! Wearing yellow was a crime (ridiculously true)!! The city was at a lockdown. Stadium Merdeka (the proposed venue) was closed and barred and heavily guarded by the police and the Federal Reserve Unit (FRU). But still we pressured on. Though no memorandum managed to reach the hands of the Agong this time, the presence of the people sent tremors across the country and internationally. Police violence against protestors made international news and people get to see the other side of things. I personally met new faces as well as old ones, and the motley crew of us once again experienced teargas and water cannons. Only this time, the effects were more painfully potent. 
But it became a wake up call for many Malaysians. 20,000 rallied that day and it was a beautiful event on all accounts. My accounts on that event are here

Bersih 3.0 - 28 April 2012

When Bersih 2.0 announced that the rally would be held on April 28, my heart sank. It sank because I had bought concert tickets for a really awesome band called L'arc En Ciel. Now, who are they you would ask me? They are a Japanese band who are really awesome. The video to their latest single is posted below :- 

I thought I would go for the concert this time instead. I spoke to the usual fellow rally goers, Colin and Desmond. And Colin said it right, that if I do go for the concert, I would be missing out in another piece of history taking place in Malaysia. And he said that I wouldn't go for the concert in the end. 

Indeed he was right. I didn't go for the concert cause I know I would be much too bothered about how my friends are doing and I can only read tweets from afar and only wonder that much on the state of things on 28 April 2012. Tried selling my tickets though and was desperate enough to post in Well, tickets for L'arc En Ciel are not exactly Russell Peters material and in the end, my mate Aaron (another L'arc fan) took his wife instead of me to the concert. If I can't sell it, best to bless others right? 


The momentum leading up to the rally was rather quiet this time round. The euphoria surrounding the rally wasn't as great as Bersih 2.0. I suppose the police knew that any more negativity on their part, since the last crackdown would heavily damage the ruling coalition's hopes of retaining the heart of the people it purports to serve. However, that is not to say that there is no news on this matter. In fact, the Occupy Dataran Movement served as a prelude to what was to happen on 28 April. Applications were made to DBKL and the Police for the rally to be held at Dataran Merdeka but it was rejected (no surprises eh? yeah, I had none too). 
Less than a week before the actual day itself. Bersih 3.0 insisted on going ahead with the Sitting protest in Dataran Merdeka. 

By 26 April 2012, the entire Dataran Merdeka was cordoned off. Not only with barricades, there were razor wires actually used instead of barbed wires. Such is the fear of DBKL to allow people to use it. The Police later said they would allow the rally / assembly provided no one goes into Dataran Merdeka or some other roads as stated in the Court Order obtained by the Police. However, despite all this, the numbers in our group swelled and by the end of Friday night, our group numbers at or around 60 odd or so. Old faces and new ones. Rally veterans and first timers. It was exciting to say the least.

We read of news that the police would use a new weapon, the Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) as a means of crowd control this time round. Advice to bring headphones or earpolugs were then circulated.

The Morning

The few of us, consisting of my sister (miracle of miracles), Wil Liam, Alvin Cheah and Kien Mun took the LRT to the city at around 930 am. We were met by hordes of yellow shirt wearers. The atmosphere was pretty different from that of Bersih 2.0 where many had to hide their tees in their bags for fear of being arrested (orders were given out for the arrests of anyone who wears yellow - a crime only in Malaysia and in June 2011). Our spirits were uplifted. 

When we reached Pasar Seni, we rallied at the first point which is Lai Foong Coffeeshop and this time, the coffeeshop was bustling, once again unlike Bersih 2.0. We met familiar faces, but at the same time new ones.

Some of us then headed to Petaling Street to meet up with another group, my sister's church group, and we had breakfast there instead. Believe me, chicken rice was the first to go, so I ordered some rice with sotong sambal. Not good. :) 

We then rallied back to the Central Market car park, the original rally point and all the satellite groups met up to form the original group which was co-ordinated and facilitated by Colin Pal.There was a crowd gathering and more and more people gathered. 

Ambiga and perhaps, some members were giving speeches on stage. We were quite a distance away however. 

The atmosphere was carnival-like and we entertained ourselves while we wait for further directions to move towards Dataran Merdeka. People from all walks of life greeted each other and new friends were made by many I'm sure. 


The Protestors and their afternoon prayers. I truly admire their discipline in prayer :)

The March

At about 130pm, orders were finally given to the crowd to start walking from Central Market. By then, on an estimate, it could have been about 3000 here? My estimate is quite horrible I must admit. 


We took the Kota Raya route which took us to Leboh Pasar Besar. We continued to walk towards the Leboh Ampang. I had the opportunity to meet Haris Ibrahim and as usual, he always came across as a really humble chap. Haris Ibrahim, the person who coined up the Pakatan Rakyat moniker and his life is a testimony of the good fight. A true Malaysian hero! 


We arrived at Leboh Ampang finally and that’s where we met the PR convoy of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and Lim Kit Siang. Ambiga was already some platform on top of a truck and speeches were given. We couldn’t hear much from behind and we proceeded to the front. At some point, orders were given for the crowd to sit and that’s where we DUDUK BANTAH (Sit In Protest). 
We arrived at Leboh Ampang finally and that’s where we met the PR convoy of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and Lim Kit Siang. Ambiga was already some platform on top of a truck and speeches were given. We couldn’t hear much from behind and we proceeded to the front. At some point, orders were given for the crowd to sit and that’s where we DUDUK BANTAH.

Calm Before the Storm

Around 15 minutes into the DUDUK BANTAH we were asked to later disperse. That was the end of it. Or was it? The crowd was curious, some of us were asked to push back. Then again there were some who said to march on into Dataran Merdeka. Here is where I got a suspicious. We rallied on however. As we passed the KL Bar (Wisma Kraftangan), protestors started to chant ‘Buka Buka, Buka Pagar!” (Open up the gates). And here is where I felt that something was about to go down. We had promised not to go into Dataran and that is that. But to open the barricades, that wasn’t part of the plan.

And before I know it, the police started firing teargas. From afar we saw the smoke and I knew, we have walked into a trap of sorts!
I opened up my salt pack and started taking some to avoid the sting of the teargas (experience helps this time round).  We offered salt to people around telling them to put it in their mouth to avoid the sting! We pushed back as more and more tear gas canisters were fired.
“B*stards!”  I thought to myself. I knew all too well that they would use their teargas canisters, cause they’d probably need to achieve a quota of how many canisters were used for the day. The more canisters, the higher their brownie points would be recorded.

Some protestors, who were falling back started shouting to the others to run for it. Together with some of the more experienced protestors, we shouted in reply “TO WALK! JALAN! JANGAN LARI. BERTENANG!”  (to walk and not to run and to keep calm) knowing full well that anything out of control would cause a stampede and that is the last thing this peaceful rally really needs.
Most of got separated here and some of us decided to rally back to Central Market since the Rally is over. We took the exit on the right off Burger King to head back. More tear gas was fired but by then we were at a safe distance (at least the remaining few). We walked back to Central Market but before that, stopped to get some water. 
I received texts of others who were separated to rally at Central Market and we all agreed and decided to head there. We were then at Central Market waiting for the rest to get back. And this is when we received news that the police had fired tear gas in these few spots, Kota Raya, The Bar Council and Central Market. This was absolutely ridiculous!! We hear that the Bar Council was also attacked with the FRU Water cannons! Believe me, chemical laced water is the last thing you want on your skin. And this is what the rally-goers at the Bar Council had to endure. 

As the group re-assembled once again, teargas was coming our way and this time the effects were more  potent than before. I had to admit, I choked. But thankfully, the tear gas formulae was not as potent as the ones used in Bersih 2.0. But it was still bad nevertheless. When I recovered, I joined Colin and the others to offer salt to some of the others.  This is when we see police personnel starting to assemble and we decided to leave for good. Those who were separated were already on their way to KL Sentral and we decided to rally at that point since the Pasar Seni, Masjid Jamek and Dang Wangi LRT Stations were now off bounds (another ridiculous decision made by the powers that be for no good reason).

We reached KL Sentral and had our really late lunch at Burger King. And this is where we found out that some protestors were knocked over by a police car in the Sogo area. Not only that, the car was subsequently overturned by angry protestors. At that point, we felt really sad for we know that this would be the talking point and the negative aspects that Bersih has been trying to steer clear off, would now be pinpointed based on this incident. 

Colin told us that Ambiga and Co would be doing a press conference at KFC in KL Sentral. We headed over to KFC once we are done only to find out that the press conference was already over.

However, we managed to have a word with Wong Chin Huat, member of the steering committee. In light of all the negativity that had happened, he requested that we help mobilize a team to clean up the streets which have been left littered. The streets were Masjid Jamek, Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman and Jalan Raja Laut.
By now, some of us were really tired. We informed those who were realluy tired to go home first while the rest who still had the energy, to do something, start mobilizing themselves and gather people for the cleaning up exercise. We started tweeting and see if there was response. Eddy, Sean I and some of the rest who had left earlier decided to come back.  However,  we told the rest that we would go to Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman since there was news of unrest in Masjid Jamek. With the help of a very nice Burger King manager, we got ourselves black plastic bags.

Rubbish Collecting

By the time we got there, Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman was empty. But the police formed barricades, and they were looking really serious. We didn’t bother and we continued our cleaning up exercise. We met another chap, Rahul who decided to help us with the exercise. Now this is 1Malaysian spirit. J

Anyway , I got nearer to where the police barricade was to pick up some rubbish there. It was there that one of them confronted me and asked me if I was paid for doing this. I said I wasn’t paid and that this was a voluntary exercise in good faith. A plain clothed police, Inspector, I reckon then told me “Get your friends, your family and stay out of here. If you don’t want any trouble, get out now. A police has just died!”.  I didn’t exactly believe him but he has spoken. I retreated and told the rest of this. We decided to then head to Raja Laut and continued to pick up the rubbish and see what the conditions were like over there. We perhaps heard sounds of police approaching and we got scared. The idea of being arrested now is even more so real since, now its just the ragtag group of less than 10 of us VS the PDRM. We then decided to head home, but not before throwing the bags of rubbish that we had. At least for that moment, we made the world a cleaner place.We were dead tired and we called it a day.
 Post mortem of Bersih 3.0
 It would seem that the tables have turned this time round for Bersih 3.0.
Protestors’ acts of violence would now be the main drawback of the otherwise peaceful rally by protestors (notwithstanding the acts of the police).  Especially the turning over of the police car aka the SOGO incident.  Was this action warranted?  After viewing some of the videos, I could reconcile the fact that they overturned the car because there was genuine suspicion that someone could have been trapped under the car since the car was seen ramming through a protestor before hitting the wall.

Was the police man at fault in driving at such a pace?
No. If one was to observe, he was probably in shock from the attacks carried out by some of the protestors and he could have sped for fear of further endangerment to his life. It was truly tragic then that someone was hurt in the process, an innocent bystander no less. I was informed later that the police car was attacked at traffic light junction. Now, violence by protestors cannot be condoned. What is shocking to me is that the usual group of protestors are usually very well behaved and if you can see from one of the youtube videos posted here, some of them tried to protect the policeman from being harmed by other angry protestors. Surely, there are people who still act responsibly and I’m truly proud of them.

However, there will be other questions which perhaps would be left unanswered.

Was the barricades breached by the protestors or on some accounts, was the barricades removed as part of an enticement and a trap for protestors to enter Dataran, and to give the police full reason to retaliate? I'm not sure, but from the accounts that I read such as Marcus Van Geyzel's post, it could be well possible that it was a trap. As for me, I believe that this would have been carefully planned out and hence my suspicions as earlier mentioned in this post. 

Other questions would be, was the force inflicted by the police against the protestors warranted? The excessive use of tear gas, the water cannons and finally police brutality against unarmed protestors? I read news and heard reports of reporters being harrassed by the police and having their camera equipment snatched and destroyed. Truthful reporting is dangerous and this is a proven fact with these incidents.

Below is a video of excessive force administered onto one individual.

The force of police retaliation can never been seen as equal or proportionate. As Edmund Bon tweeted, its about proportionality. You don't bring the entire house down to catch a fly. 
And it is sad, that this is prevalent in this country. 

Above is the comparison between what is reported by International media and what our mainstream media wants us to see and believe.

I was also disturbed to read that someone said that "if the someone swallowed their pride and accepted the offer to hold it at Stadium Merdeka instead of going ahead to rally at Dataran Merdeka, this won't happen". I wish it was all that simple but time and time has proven that offers from the government always end up as empty promises. If anything, it is history that has taught us that (Bersih 2 is an example). For me, I would be supportive of sticking to the plan of rallying around Dataran Merdeka and that was not a mistake. 

What I believe would be a mistake is for DBKL and the Police to cordon off Dataran Merdeka without any cogent reason or valid excuse. Clearly what they have done is unconstitutional and goes against the spirit of Article 10 of the Federal Contitution (I believe the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 is also in itself unconstitutional).
All said, I believe there will be more questions in search of answers in days to come over all this.

But please, amidst all these negativity and euphoria, remember that the people gathered at their own will to voice for one goal. That is, for clean elections. To stand for what is right and just. And to tell the powers that be, that we will never be scared of bullying tactics. T
And that is what Bersih is for. Let not all these things take the beauty of solidarity as I have seen away from Bersih. The beautiful view that I share with thousands and thousands of others. 

There may be allegations that the rally was hijacked by the Opposition. I believe even if it was true, the people know full well what goes on in this country and has chosen, with or without an opposition card, to gather at Kuala Lumpur to voice out against tyranny.

And we hope that what happens at Bersih 3.0, let us remember that the fight for this country continues. Even if there is a need for Bersih 4.0 for better governance. 

For this peeps who have been fighting alongside, it is such an honour walking with you guys. You know who you are. Of course you do, your pictures are posted here !!! ahahahaha! 

Thanks for reading. 

No comments: