Monday, April 30, 2012

TMI: Witnessing the death of democracy.... By Shazuan Ali

Witnessing the death of democracy

April 30, 2012
KUALA LUMPUR, April 30 — Unlike Bersih 2.0, I would call myself a coward back then. I am very supportive and committed towards free and fair election but watched live streams at home, like a coward in front of my laptop.
Only after I read the #bersihstories, did I tell myself I should’ve been there! I should be there with my fellow Malaysian friends. It is not fair for them to fight to better my future while I sit at home in comfort.
So I made a promise to myself, if Bersih 3.0 is necessary, I will be there!
Bersih 3.0 spread fast. I started to cancel my plans for vacation and find anyone who was going to join the sit-in protest.
I was lucky as one of my colleagues was going. On the eve of the fateful day, I browse for updates of the protest and found out thousands of people already in the city. I was pumped up by the news.
The next morning, I woke up as early as 5am. I didn’t want to be stuck in any situation that could stop me from being at Bersih 3.0. After performing my morning prayer, I get ready. At around 8am, I drove to Kelana Jaya as we planned to enter the city via public transport.
After breakfast, we board the train and disembark at Pasar Seni. There are plenty of people in yellow.
“This gonna be big. Let the world know we’re hungry for free and fair elections, and we’re done with all these corruption!” I told myself
While on the train, I text my family members,
“Please pray for my safety as I’m in KL offering my support for #Bersih”, I texted.
“Jaga diri, jalan dalam kelompok”, my dad replied.
“That’s the spirit! We’re praying for all of you. Keep us posted”, one of my relatives replied.
As we got there, I saw people are taking pictures of someone. I went closer and found out it was Pak Samad. Pak Samad is my idol in writing. I shook his hand and took a photo with him and then I say, “Terima kasih, Pak Samad, terima kasih!”.
I didn’t thank him for the photo but for being here, fighting for a better Malaysia.
We joined the crowd in Central Market. It was only 10am but there were already so many people and the city looks like a big festival. Everyone was in good spirits and chants of “Bersih” could be heard everywhere.
While we were standing there, an old lady approached us.
“Are you guys here to support as well?” she asked.
“Of course, aunty! If not, why would we be standing here?” I replied.
“Then good! You should! The rich are getting richer while the poor are getting poorer! These people on top are very jahat one. We need to change this! Good luck to you guys! Take care!”
She left us to join her group.
After afternoon prayers, around 1.45pm, we started for Dataran Merdeka.
The crowd was totally peaceful and calm. I look up to the sky and smiled. I am actually here with my fellow Malaysians. This is the real 1 Malaysia.
Around 2.35pm, we stop as we had reached the limit. Dataran Merdeka was barricaded.
The crowd was very big. From Brickfields, Central Market and Petaling Street alone, I estimated around 80,000 to 100,000 people.
My friend and I slip through the corridor of HSBC to reach Masjid Jamek. There are sea of people there.
While we were standing there, one guy rushed beside me and threw up. I understood his condition so I offered him a pack of tissue paper I had.
“Thank you very much!” he said and I just react with a smile.
Around 2.50pm, the people chanted, “Duduk! Duduk! Duduk!”
There was no sign of the authorities giving us permission to enter Dataran Merdeka.
Around 3pm, my friends and I decided to walk away from the crowd as it was too hot there.
After few steps, we heard the crowd shouting. They fired tear gas canisters into the crowd. People are running and we run, too.
We board the train and left. At home, I watched all the videos from the day. I cried.
How could they do this to us? We came in solidarity. We came in peace with flowers, balloons and sung Negaraku. We just wanted to sit in protest. We want a better future. Why?
I saw a montage at PWTC saying, “A leader who listens to the people”. In reality, they don’t actually listen. Instead, they fired tear gas canisters to shut us up.
In the future, when my children ask, I would say, “Son, I was there fighting for your future and on that fateful day I witness the death of democracy in our country.”
* This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider

malasyaikini: Police brutality: A first person account ..... by Koh Jun Lin

Police brutality: A first person account
Several press photographers have complained that police barred them from documenting the sometimes brutal arrests being made at the Bersih 3.0 rally in Kuala Lumpur last Saturday.

I am among them and at that time was taking photographs of police breaking up a group of protesters when I was arrested at the intersection of Jalan Raja Laut and Jalan Parlimen, near Dataran Merdeka .

Despite displaying my media accreditation tag on my photographer's vest and clearly identifying myself as a journalist, I was ordered by two police officers to "put the camera away".

I responded by lowering my camera and shouted out, "Media! Media!" and dug into my pockets for the lens cap when the police officers appeared dissatisfied.

NONEIt was about 5.30pm then and the two policemen apprehended me and took away my camera and media tag.

I cooperated with the police and even helped them to remove my media tag from my vest, but in the process, my hat was knocked off my head and my voice recorder was dropped out of my pocket.

Another policeman retrieved the voice recorder, with me now, but with the battery and battery cover missing. My requests to recover my favourite hat were not entertained.

When being escorted past a line of police officers and men in uniform on Jalan Raja, one of the policeman sneaked a punch at my abdomen.

Although it is still stinging as I write this, the doctors gave me a clean bill of health after an expensive ultrasound scan.
Why am I detained? No answer
Despite no longer wearing my media tag, some of the police officers and men resting outside Saint Mary's Cathedral apparently recognised me as a member of the press and some were overheard saying "he's from the media," while some cheered as I walked past.

My questions on why I was being detained were ignored.

I was eventually held outside the Royal Selangor Club, with some 200 other detainees, until about 7pm, during which I helped to treat the injuries of some of the detainees.

NONESeveral lawyers and a medical team were already there providing assistance, including legal advice, first aid and drinks.

Among the detainees were Batu MP Chua Tian Chang, who is better known as Tian Chua, Guang Ming Daily photographer Huang An Jian and a tourist from Sydney, Australia, who said he was arrested in front of the hostel he was staying.

As a former senior first-aider certified by the Australian Red Cross until my accreditation expired in 2009, I went around with my first-aid kit asking if anyone had been beaten. The typical responses were either, "Yes," or a sarcastic "Who hasn't?"

I cleaned and applied iodine solution on the wounds of at least five protesters who had suffered cuts and bruises on their arms and heads that evening. One protester had a deep cut on his left thumb and was told to see a doctor, out of concern that the dexterity of his finger would be affected if there was serious scarring.

I also saw a man lying down, barely conscious, for more than an hour, before he was taken away by an ambulance, weakly muttering La ilaha illallah (there is no God except Allah)," when put on the stretcher.
I should consider myself lucky

It was then that I thought: "I should consider myself lucky. I have seen worse that day. Much, much worse".

A motorcyclist stopped on the elevated Jalan Kuching above where we were held, to shoot the scene with his camcorder, prompting the police to jeer and shout at him to leave - and his good luck was that they were not able to reach him.

My harassment by the police had begun much earlier, about 3.30pm, when I was corralled together with several other reporters behind a line of riot police in action and harassed. I was also warned not to go near them.

NONEDuring my detention outside the Royal Selangor Club, I was able to negotiate the return of my press tag in exchange for my MyKad. Much later, a plainclothes police officer came to me and returned my camera - but without the memory card.

"I don't know what's inside, but my superiors have looked at the photos and they want them as evidence," he told me.

The memory card contains all the pictures I took from 3pm, shortly after the police crackdown began, and I was very annoyed about it. How could they confiscate my property, a vital part of my work for the day?

Among these were pictures of police pursuing and arresting a group of protesters, injuries suffered by a police officer, tear gas being fired and pictures of the blood-soaked TV Al-Hijrah videographer Mohd Azri Mohd Salleh Khalid posing with his media tag and saying that he was beaten by a group of protesters.

I was leaving Dataran Merdeka after failing to find a Kuala Lumpur City Council vehicle that was said to have been been torched by protesters when I came across the group of protesters as the police were about to charge at them.

NONELater in the evening, as I was being taken away in a bus with the other detainees, I saw more instances of police brutality.

Detainees on the bus - despite having suffered at the hands of the police - gasped in horror as the bus passed scenes of protesters being beaten, including one lying on the ground and being kicked by several officers.

I was taken to the Police Traning Centre (Pulapol) in Titiwangsa, Kuala Lumpur, where police officers processing the detainees were puzzled by my presence.

I was then taken to a deputy superintendent, who said my arrest was a mistake, and ordered the men to return my MyKad and to release me immediately.

There was no documentation done on my arrest, nor the confiscation of my camera memory card.

It took me 15 minutes to get out of Pulapol, being lost in the training centre. I asked for directions to the exit from everyone I came across and once outside, about 8.05pm, I took a taxi home. What a relief to reach home!

fmt: One Saturday in the heart of KL ..... by Aneesa Alphonsus

One Saturday in the heart of KL

Aneesa Alphonsus
 | April 30, 2012
It was a beautiful morning filled with the promise of change for thousands of Malaysians who came out in full force, and what a day it turned out to be!
Saturday, April 28, 2012 began beautifully. It was the kind of day when a person would wake up wanting to spend it outdoors. The sky was a calming shade of pastel blue, dotted with whispy cotton-candy clouds.
It was the kind of day where a person would want to wash a long-neglected vehicle, mow an overgrown lawn or even run their very first mile. In short, it was a day filled with the promise of accomplishing something, no matter what it was.
For thousands of Malaysians, the pastel-coloured sky was the limit that day as they set out to do their bit for change in Malaysia in a two-hour sit-down protest which was Bersih 3.0 from 2pm-4pm.
Thousands had gathered in various parts of Kuala Lumpur the night before, roughing it out on five-foot ways, at train stations, in car parks, at 24-hour eateries, and in public parks, among others.
What follows is a pictorial feature of what was seen and heard over an eight-hour period on April 28 along Jalan Tun Perak, Dataran Mederka, along the DBKL building, and at the back lanes of Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman:
Around 8.40am, three large busloads of police followed by three more trucks filled with more policemen stopped just at the side of the Central Market.
The handful of people on the street stopped in their tracks to witness the large number of policemen alighting from the buses and trucks.
As they walked towards the Central Market carpark, one policeman was overhead saying, “Masih awal, boleh minum dulu.” (It’s still early, we can have a drink first.)
A short distance from this saw rally-goers milling around in a still uncrowded street, some lounging on makeshift chairs, eating packets of nasi lemak, smoking, beating on bongos and even laying flat on the ground, oblivious to the fracas that would take place in a few hours.
Past this junction and a little further up towards Masjid Jamek and the Jalan Tun Perak junction was a traffic-free road that needed to be seen to be believed – what more on a Saturday in the heart of Kuala Lumpur.
Except for a lone street sweeper who was doing his part to keep things Bersih (clean), it was eerily quiet and desolate, reminscent of a post-apocalypse situation with the people gone, but the buildings intact.
There were more police at the start of Jalan Tun Perak – some standing, others sitting on steps, whiling time away chatting. The conversation overhead seemed surreal to an extent and it could have been had by anyone over Saturday morning breakfast. A group of policemen were heard talking about a wedding one of them had attended and how much it costs to get married these days.
His colleagues good-naturedly jabbed him about his impending nuptials and there were laughs all around. But there was still something ironically sinister to the mirth – like there was an undercurrent of something unsettling although everyone at the time, both the cops and the rally-goers all along Majid Jamek seemed to be in good spirits.
Good-natured hooting from the crowd
By 9am, a considerable number of people had gathered and the street began to look a brighter shade of yellow, and the camaraderie displayed was heartening.
If ever there was an effortless display of the 1Malaysia spirit, it would have been this. As cliched as some might think it is, the sight of the potpurri of races sharing food, talking, laughing and singing along to traditional Malaysian nursery rhymes could leave a lump in one’s throat. No amount of tear gas could have a done a better job.
While things were relatively sedate along Masjid Jamek, the situation further up, at the edge of Dataran Merdeka, was slowly teeming. Slogans were being vociferously shouted as the police stood behind the barrier. A few rally-goers who had their hands on the barrier were promptly told to remove them.
This was what the area surrounding Dataran Merdeka looked like at 9.15am with five hours left before the sit-down protest began.
Back along Jalan Tun Perak, opposite Masjid Jamek, the atmosphere was given a Woodstock-like twist when dreadlocked young men and musicians with bongos, harmonicas and drumsticks made an appearance. Frenetic poem recitations coupled with blood-surging drum beats, was perhaps the first sign of anything exciting – for want of a better word – that was happening in the otherwise sedate morning in this part of the city.
At about 10am, a small group of anti-Lynas protesters came along and expressed their dissatisfaction at the stewardship of the country, asking that the prime minister to be accountable for his decisions; to be more blunt and straight-to-the-point, they didn’t think very much of him as the leader of this country.
By the time it was 11am, Jalan Tun Perak looked like this:
At 11.30am, the crowd had spilled over to the back of a fast-food restaurant. This group of people were moving to the riverbank when a group of policemen ran ahead of them, linked arms and forbade them from going any further. The group retreated without any hassle and made their way back to the the main road in front of Masjid Jamek.It was also around this time that a bigger group of anti-Lynas supporters had converged just outside the Masjid Jamek LRT station, chanting their slogans and posing for photographs, obliging people who kept asking them to pump their fists in the air for added photo effect.
Crowd whipped into a frenzy
In just one hour, it was astounding to see just how many more people had gathered on what was turning out to be a sweltering day.
The crowd was extremely orderly and at 12.20pm, it seemed like Bersih 3.0 Duduk Bantah (sit-down protest) had officially begun when the crowd obediently settled themselves on the tarred road.
At 33 degrees Celcius, the crowd was literally in the hot seat but didn’t show signs of any discomfort, chanting slogans rhythmically and with great gusto.
Then at 1.05pm, loud cheers and applause was heard – it was a thundering of voices that welcomed Karpal Singh who was wheeled past the crowd as he smiled and waved while sitting in his wheelchair.
It was also around this time that this journalist’s smartphone lost service. No pictures could be uploaded, no e-mails sent or received. The BlackBerry Messenger service came to a standstill just as the regular SMSes did. The no-reception situation would continue until 4pm.
By this time also, the crowd had begun to move themselves towards Dataran Merdeka, standing behind razor wires and orange plastic barriers, fronted by white collapsible gates. There was a little melee when an elderly man managed to cross over the blockade claiming sanctuary from the sun. Two police officers cautioned him to to go back but the old man retreated against the wall, telling them that he was feeling nauseated and dizzy.
As one of the policemen approached to take him by the arm, the crowd began booing and some were heared yelling, “Polis jagan sentuh orang!” (The police shouldn’t lay their hands on people). The elderly man eventually regained his composure and was helped across the barrier.
By 1.15pm, the police force just inside the barrier on Dataran Merdeka had doubled. It was also around this time that a police truck makes its way through the crowd along Jalan Tun Razak much to the consternation of the crowd. Shouts of “Duduk! Duduk! Jangan berdiri” (Sit down! Sit down! Don’t stand up) were heard but at the sight of the looming vehicle, they parted to allow it to go through.
By 2.15pm, this journalist had gained entry behind the barrier and from here, the view of the crowd was phenomenal, to say the least. There were continuous shouts of “Bersih!” and “Bukak” (open).

It was only moments after this, at 2.57pm that the barrier suddently gave way without warning and the crowd rushed into Dataran Merderka. This picture was taken seconds after the crowd broke through.At 2.55pm, the crowd was whipped into a frenzy when Anwar Ibrahim appeared on a vehicle. From this journalist’s standpoint, what he said couldn’t be heard, but from his body language, with the movement of the arms and hands which at one point were clapsed together in a act of homage, it looked like he was placating the crowd, trying to get them to sit down.
The police rushed forward, the media ran hapharzardly and in a matter of seconds, tear gas was released. People rushed forward in the ensuing stampede, while more gas was released from under the Masjid Jamek monorail tracks. All hell had broken lose.
Tables turned on cops
People jumped into the fountain, coughing and hacking, some retching and even throwing up. Cries of “Ya Allah” were heard and some who have experienced this before were telling the greenhorns to calm down, wetting their faces with wet wash cloths, giving them water and salt.
This barrage would go on for a distance near the DBKL building. More tear gas was released and the crowd ran towards Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahmah to the backlanes where the bazaar is situated. A kind proprietor offered this journalist refuge as he quickly covered the front of his stall with cloth.
Things were quiet for a bit after 30 minutes or so and with people walking about with some normalcy, it seemed safe to make one’s way to Masjid Jamek. It was only a few metres away from this stall that sudden loud shouts were heard, and the police charged after the crowd telling them to disperse.
More tear gas was released, but not before the crowd turned the tables on the police chasing them to the end of the bazaar stretch. A loud boom, more like a sharp pop, was heard, and someone was overheard saying that the police were firing their guns in the air.
At about 4.45pm, this journalist made her way towards Masjid Jamek station. When asked about transport out, two policemen said that the best way would be to take the train, while a third came forward and said that all train stations had been shut down.
It was then that another melee erupted when a man shouted, “Polis sungguh kejam!” (The police are so heartless), which resulted in another round of tear gas being released. Tear gas was also released into the train station.
The police were extremely reticent when it came to sharing infornation about how to get out of Kuala Lumpur. One police officer said that he cannot reveal the route out and the best thing to do would be to wait it out.
Walking to the back of the Coliseum restaurant, this journalist approached a policeman, telling him that her phone battery had completely expired and that that there was an urgency to get out and file in reports.
It was only then that he pointed towards the direction of Dataran Merdeka saying that one could walk that way and out onto Jalan Parliament. Just as the directions were given, a group of FRU officers charged forward, batons in the air yelling at everyone to leave.
The road at the edge of Dataran Mederka was bereft of anyone except uniformed personnel and as we walked towards Jalan Parliament, more than five truckloads of police were seen moving into the city followed closely by at least another five FRU trucks.
The police and FRU may have been gargantuan in equipment, weapons and whatever else but the spirit displayed by rally-goers made them seem pusillanimous in comparison. By the time it was 5pm, the police were arresting people and at the last count, close to 500 people were arrested, with one fatality and countless injuries suffered in what was to have been a peaceful rally.
Mahatma Gandhi said, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” If there is truth in this saying, where this cause is concerned, it does seem like victory might make a glorious lap or two around Dataran Merdeka soon.

TMI: When will we stop being a police state? — by Rama Ramanathan

When will we stop being a police state? — Rama Ramanathan

April 30, 2012
APRIL 30 — It’s 3am on Monday morning. It’s nearly 48 hours since I woke up on Saturday to get ready to join the Bersih sitdown in Kuala Lumpur. It’s time to write some thoughts about that day which my mind refuses to categorise in simple black-and-white terms.
I awoke thinking of what Archbishop Desmond Tutu said on Radio 4 in the UK about 30 years ago. He spoke of walking up to white policemen in London and asking for directions even when he didn’t need to. He just wanted to enjoy the fact that he, a black man, would be helped and would be treated with respect by white policemen, who would even address him as “Sir”.
I’m thinking about Desmond Tutu, the black bishop whom all South African policemen had been directed to treat as an enemy. I’m thinking about ordinary Malaysians whom all Malaysian policemen in Kuala Lumpur had been directed to treat as enemies.
I’m in my fifties. I was born and brought up in a small town in Johor. My father was an interpreter in the magistrate’s court. We lived in government quarters, behind the police station. Many of our family’s friends worked for the police.
We treated policemen with honour. We knew some had died or been seriously injured and at times maimed for life in the line of duty: arresting burglars, busting up gambling dens, breaking up drug cartels, defeating communist insurgents. We knew some who were corrupt, some who roughed up people, some who were lazy; but we did not consider the whole force to be of questionable character.
My wife’s father retired as an assistant superintendent of police in the Special Branch after spending many years fighting communists. He received letters of commendation from the Inspector-General of Police. His brother died in the line of (communist) fire. Many of my wife’s relatives were in the force.
I’ve often been treated well by the police. When first my father, then my mother died, both at home, in Selangor, of old age, I went to the police station to report their deaths. I then accompanied a policeman to my home to confirm my parents were in fact dead, and that there were no suspicious circumstances. The “men in blue” showed me great sympathy — the person who took my report, the person who accompanied me home, the person who typed the death certificate, the person who handed it to me.
After Bersih 2.0, I wrote a piece which was sympathetic to the police. Many criticised me for it, but I stand by what I said. The bad behaviour of some should not cause us to berate all: just as my behaviour on the streets of KL on Saturday should not be considered the same as the behaviour of a few protesters who acted badly. Rather, we should ask “how do we avoid bad behaviour in the future?”
It’s too simplistic to say — like Malaysia’s ruling junta does — “don’t protest again,” for protest is a legitimate avenue of expression: Umno Youth leaders have led protests in Malaysia, often to foreign missions, to hand over letters, petitions, etc. Marches and rallies are an integral part of the democratic process. I’ve seen rallies in Italy, the UK, the US. The police are always there, accessible to all, actively keeping order.
What I saw of the police on Saturday was sad. The policemen had been directed to stay aloof from the public. They were there not as partners in a democratic state, but as “good guys” demonstrating that they, as “big brothers”, were watching us “evil guys”.
The police positioned themselves in lines designed to show cameras and the public that they were restrained, strong and prepared. Police cameramen showed themselves active everywhere, ensuring we knew our faces were being recorded. [I paused and looked into the lens of every police camera, to show I was not intimidated.]
I and many I spoke with felt sad for the police. We felt sad that they were under the orders of masters who are so like the South Africans elites who hated Desmond Tutu. We felt a bond of humanity with the men in blue. We were sorry they had to stand inactive in the sun. We were sorry the police logistics were so poor that some policemen (behind the razor wire close to the Bar Council) could not be supplied with food and drink: we watched “supply vehicles” doing a U-turn after failing to deliver the goods. We have now seen the videos of the police acting brutally. We’ve seen groups of men in blue kicking and punching lone individuals. These videos will never be shown in the mainstream media; these stories will never be told in the mainstream media.
We know many leaders of Umno-BN are Internet savvy. We know they have seen the videos of police brutality. We know they will not comment on these videos, so we will have to. We will have to address what happened, because the ruling junta will not.
Why did the police behave as they did? I think they did so because they have been trained to think in black-and-white terms. They’re in uniform, they’re the good guys. We’re not in uniform, we’re the bad guys. They work for the prime minister, home minister, and (de facto) law minister who know what others don’t and who know best what’s good for all.
However, the policemen on the ground would have noticed that the vast majority of us were not menacing towards them. If the police have the capability to identify us from the photos they will know that many of us who showed up on that hot Saturday are CEOs, senior general managers, company directors, regional directors and vice-presidents, pastors, lawyers, teachers.
If the policemen look closely, they will see the message on the T-shirts: what we want are free and fair elections. We don’t want anarchy. We want the Election Commission out, because we think they work hand in hand with the government of the day to manipulate the elections to enrich and entrench the current corrupt regime.
The police saw how we behaved. They’ve now seen that the mainstream media reports are only one part of the story. They saw that we were peaceful, not violent; that we acted as fellow citizens, not as enemies of the state; that we treated them with respect.
We must not call all cops bad just because of the antics of a few inflamed cops. The cops must not call all of us bad just because of a few inflamed protesters.
The cops must ask themselves: what can they do better next time? How can they repair their image? Through public relations blitzes and media manipulation, or through simple acts of respectful service? Can they do better by being on active duty during protests, patrolling in pairs, assisting the public, rather than standing in lines of intimidation?
What new practices will the police implement to show they understand protest is part of democracy? How will the police respond to the public’s pleas that we want to be their partners, not their enemies?
What kind of country do we want to be? What’s missing in our measures of progress? How can we partner with the cops? When will we stop being a police state?