Last year, on November 10th, 40,000 Malaysians attended the BERSIH Rally, the civil society coalition for a clean and fair elections. The coalition started out as a Joint Action Committee for Electoral Reform, formed in July 2005. Now, the coalition’s objective is to push for a thorough reform of the electoral process in Malaysia, including a freer and fairer press.
According to a blog report:
Whatta day!! If you were expecting a cool “Walk for Justice”-type scene, you were in for a big surprise!! It was no walk in the park….
- 40,000 people
– 4000 Police – Dataran Merdeka was sealed off by a wall of Policemen.
– Police fired water cannons and tear gas at Masjid Jamek.
– Roadblocks on ALL roads leading into KL.
– 29 people arrested, 24 released
– The cops could not stop 40,000 people from marching from KL city centre to the Istana Negara to hand over the memorandum to the Agong [the King].
An anniversary rally was organised this year, not only to commemorate one of the biggest protest marches held in Malaysia, but to also celebrate the release of Raja Petra Kamaruddin (RPK), who had been held in detention without trial. What transpired that evening turned out to be much more than just a candlelight vigil that had been planned.
According to blogger Antares:
Got a call from a friend who said the cops had forced her to turn back at a roadblock, so she decided to go home… Polis patrol cars were cruising up & down and the crowd started walking slowly towards the PJ Civic Center. Decided to WALK WITH RPK (literally) and when I got to the Civic Center, the Red Helmets were already lined up and beating their shields to scare people. Polis sirens were wailing just for effect. It appeared they had been instructed to intimidate & terrorize the peaceful rakyat gathered there simply because we value democracy and love this nation too much to allow it to be turned into a pirates’ lair by a bunch of Scumno scoundrels.
Apparently, there were roadblocks throughout Petaling Jaya, the suburbs on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. A vigil to free Raja Petra Kamaruddin had been held in a field in the suburbs every week since his detention. Since his release, the vigil was to be held together with the BERSIH one-year rally.
… i realized that the police had roadblocks all over PJ, blocking cars to the field in front of Amcorp Mall. I then parked my car near MBPJ building and walked there. Apparently the police didn’t stops me going there but i saw them questioning those who wore FREE RPK/I AM WITH RPK shirt.
Many had gathered at the field. Angela told us that the police had asked us to disperse because we didn’t have permit to gather at the PUBLIC PARK. The police also said we need to be at a closed area, not OPEN AREA. The turnout was very good, even with roadblocks closing all the roads for cars, a few hundreds managed to walk there and gathered in front of the Amcorp Mall at the car park. By 9pm, FRU [Federal Reserve Unit] has lined up and pushed the peoples into the mall.
News reports state that the crowd dispersed from the field to a nearby commercial area, where a popular multi-purpose hall, the Civics Centre, was located. At the Civic Centre, blogger and witness Chin Yau Chia wrote:
Reached Civic centre, greeted Marina, and the short ceremony begun. Both of us was standing outside the crowd. We heard Tony [Pua – Opposition MP present at the rally] said that if there's no BERSIH rally, he will probably not been elected. Then we started singing “Negara Ku” [Malaysia's national anthem], when we are about to finish, FRU charged us. It seems that they have specific targets. I saw them chasing after a young Indian guy, and got him finally. We quickly walked away as we are not able to help at that instance. A few FRUs passed us by, but they did nothing to us. Some plainclothes, one Chinese plainclothes, was shouting at us chasing us to leave the venue. So now I know, our Police force is used against the orderly people, people who are seeking for justice, not to combat crime.
The pandemonium appears to have occurred while a crowd of about 100 citizens were singing the national anthem. The police walked into the crowd to disperse them midway through the song. ICFJ trainee citizen journalism vloggers, Lesly Lee and Christine Chan, caught the following clip.
What followed was the arrest of twenty-three people, including Opposition MP, Tony Pua, state assemblyman, Lau Weng San, a Malaysiakini video journalist and activist, Angela Ooi . According to Sivin Kit:
A 53-year-old woman named Dian Abdullah was attacked from behind by a few policemen, causing her to fall and injure the back of her head. A bystander took her to the hospital where she received four stitches for the cut.
MP for Petaling Jaya Utara, Tony Pua and Kampung Tunku state assemblyman Lau Weng San were manhandled and punched respectively. A PAS member was set upon by six police officers on the five-foot-way right outside Lotus Restaurant.
Blogger Melvin Mah reports:
We established that 24 were arrested. Angela Ooi, the girl actively in the anti-ISA vigil in Seremban was one of them, Augustine, Arif Abdull – a fellow blogger, the priest Father Paulino from the [Divine] Mercy church in Shah Alam. We thought Ronnie was also arrested. He was released immediately becuase the police apparently saw him trying to approach them to request for time before dispersing.
Tony [Pua] was dragged by Special Branch into the Black Maria truck. Kampung Tunku assemblyman Lau Weng San was assaulted by a special Branch man whom he managed to identify, but the man responsible was rude, refused to reveal his identity. Some of the organizing team for the vigil in Penang including were arrested as well.
… Chris’ friend, Dian was dragged behind and fell down, her son arrested and her husband dragged by the Special Branch. The bleeding was so profuse that she was taken to the Assunta hospital, requiring 4 stitches. Another woman, while attempting to run away from the melee, struck her head onto a pot plant, head bleeding profusely.
The Malaysiakini videographer, who was there to record the event was also arrested. He also recorded RPK's word or two at the Civic Centre before he was taken away.
All but one of those detained were released the following day. In addition, news reports quoted Chief Police Officer (CPO) Datuk Khalid Abu Bakar as saying that he did not hear the national anthem being sung when his men moved in to disperse the crowd which had violated the law by taking part in an illegal assembly.
Blogger Haris Ibrahim responds:
Now, Khalid, if you did not hear the Negaraku being sung at the impromptu Dewan Sivik vigil, why did you not react with ‘What anthem? No-one was singing Negaraku?’ when told that vigilers had complained that your men charged into them whilst they were singing Negaraku, rather than “That is what they are claiming”, as reported in Malaysiakini.
If Khalid truly did not hear the singing, it could be for only one of two reasons.
He wasn’t at the scene.
Or he’s stone deaf.
…From the moment I got there until we began to disperse at about 9.40-9.45pm, the national anthem was sung only once, a little after 9.30pm.
Civil society groups condemn the arrests, especially on the use of force, the repression of assembly and expression and the disrespect shown to the national anthem, and Malaysian bloggers are up in arms on the whole episode.
Master Wordsmith writes:
For some of us, we may be telling ourselves that we may not ever dare to venture to a candle light vigil. Some may opine that the more they suppress us, the louder will be our voices resounding through whatever space that we can use.
For what it was worth, the recent arrests have left the IT savvy English speaking segment and some of the Bersih crowd and their networks seething with rage. I was very angry too but is anger alone enough? You see, that is the very reaction that our enemies want to create in the hearts and minds of the citizens. Do we then succumb to their conniving plot?
… many more need to rise above the induced fear and anger. The mass consciousness in Malaysia is constantly being manipulated by those in power to believe that we have no other choice than what is being thrust on us now.
Master Wordsmith was arrested for organising an anti-ISA rally in Penang, another Malaysian state, on 15th November, a week after the arrests in Petaling Jaya. A parallel event near the capital took place on the same evening without incident.