Sunday, November 11, 2007

Peaceful Bersih crowd at Masjid Jamek tear-gas-ed - why?

Predictably the Star Online downplayed the Bersih protest rally by reporting it with the description Police disperse illegal assembly.

That it was illegal could be argued as true because of the police refusal to issue a permit for the rally, but the report only focussed on a very small crowd at Masjid Jamek, where FRU was ‘forced’ to use tear gas and water
“because the crowd refused to disperse when instructed by [police] officers to do so.”

I wasn't able to access Malaysiakini until in the early morning, so I had to resort to Al Jazeera and some blogs like What A Lulu and Kenny Law to find out what the hell was going on? Both were first hand first class reports.

What I love about Lulu's style of blogging has been her unpretentious narration. Take for example the following down-to-earth report which is all the more endearing:

Up till like 2:15, someone remarked that there were hardly any yellow shirts around. They were all tucked under the shirts they were wearing or safely hidden in their bags. Everyone was still a little afraid to let it out.

Isn't that sweet and honest, and reflects all the more on her intrepidity. But what she wrote next brought would surely bring a smile to most of us, as she, Lulu, smiled too ;-)

Then Lulu said, hey! there are three guys here in yellow! they so brave.... then as they came closer,... oh... it's tianchua and his machai :D

Did you catch her 'oh ...' in the 'oh... it's tianchua and his machai :D' - surely a priceless gem of local (blogging) folklore ;-). No, it was neither an insult at Tian Chua nor an indication of disppointment but merely expressing her thoughts which we all share, as in "That's our boy at his usual best." ;-)

Kenny gave a more raw and exciting account. Poor bloke was at the Masjid Jamek locality and so was in the thick of the tear gas and chemically laced water bombardments. He also provided a chart to highlight the movement of his group after the attack. Damn good reading.

The stories from them (and later from Malaysiakini) are of course different from the Star Online, where the crowd actually numbered between 30 to 40,000, with the major body of the rally conducted peacefully. Mind you I don't know what a motorist, caught up in the jams caused by the event, would have been thinking ;-)

I also watched the UTube video (of an Al Jazeera report?) showing the FRU attacks on a peaceful crowd. The reporter, a bloke named McDonald, emphasized on this strange behavior by the police in tear gasing a group of peaceful protestors – maybe strange to him but more of this later.

On the video I saw Jeff Ooi being interviewed and introduced as an ‘independent journalist’ – now, we all know that Jeff is an opposition politician, having joined the DAP, but I note Jeff didn’t say anything to correct that introduction. When asked by the interviewer whether the opposition had ‘fueled’ the protest (words to that effect), and hijacked Bersih’s protest, Jeff naturally rejected that.

I won’t go into the merits of Jeff’s performance and answer but suffice to say, with everyone including Lim KS and PAS leaders waiting at the Istana gates for Anwar Ibrahim to arrive to personally hand over the Bersih memorandum to the King, there is no disputing that Anwar has been certainly the central personality if not the de facto leader of the Bersih protest rally.

A minor drama occurred at the Istana gates when senior police officers urged PKR secretary-general Khalid Ibrahim, his PAS counterpart, Kamaruddin Jaffar, and PKR vice-president R Sivarasa to hasten the submission of the memorandum, with dire warnings that they would be compel to forcibly disperse the crowd.

But Anwar Ibrahim and his wife were somewhere in the rear echelon, having not marched with Lim KS and the rest. He was to arrive in a motorcade convoy once the rally had arrived safely at the palace gates.

So the opposition leaders appealed to the police to be patient for Anwar’s arrival as his motorcade convoy was caught in the traffic jam. It was to be Anwar (and no one else) who would hand over the memorandum.

A few minutes later, Malaysiakini reported that there were shouts of 'Allahu Akbar' (God is great) as the de facto leader of the Bersih protest rally finally arrived on the pillion on a superbike. He assumed command of the situation, did the needful and then held court to answer questions from international reporters.

Apart from the lateral thinking in using a bike to enable Anwar to slip through the impossible traffic jam to finally join the rally, the organizers had, according to Malaysiakini, brilliantly conducted a diversionary manoeuvre by having a small crowd of a few hundred attempting to penetrate the police cordon into Dataran Merdeka, the publicized gathering point, while the main crowd went directly to Istana Negara, the intended destination, for the handing over of the memorandum by Anwar Ibrahim to the (representative of the) King.

I am glad that other than the (unnecessary) fracas at the Masjid Jamek scene, the rally and event had progressed peacefully. I admit I had expected and told a friend that some nasty Police reaction would be likely. While I wasn't completely wrong I am truly relieved that it was confined to one location.

Now, as Al Jazeera reporter McDonald had puzzled over, why did the FRU attack the ‘peaceful’ crowd at the Masjid Jamek locality with chemical laced water and tear gas?

It can’t be because of what the IGP claimed, and reported by Star Online, that
“the police were forced to use tear gas and water because the crowd refused to disperse when instructed by his officers to do so at 2.30pm Saturday. The tear gas and water cannon was only used at the Masjid Jamek meeting point.”

If we review the other scenes where there were far bigger crowds, the police had been reasonable. As I had concluded earlier, other than the Masjid Jamek location, there was a peaceful ending to the Bersih rally.

Now, it could well be a localised situation where the police had perceived a threat. But in an attempt to seek another possible answer, I hark back to the Malaysiakini report on Friday titled PM vows to crack down on Bersih rally where PM AAB in his closing speech at the UMNO party annual assembly said of the Bersih rally,
“The police have said no, yet they still want to proceed. In that case, surely something bad is going to happen.”

'... surely something bad is going to happen ...'! The PM had also made a point that there had never been peaceful protest rallies.

Well, I believe the police at the Masjid Jamek location did ‘prove’ his point! I am speculating that the crowd dispersal requirement 'confirmed' the impression that as 'predicted', the mobs were 'bad', disruptive and dangerous, but at the same time the police didn't overdo the anti riot act (on a wider scale) as that would be what attracts international official attention and disturbs foreign investors. Afterall, AAB did repudiate comparison to the draconian Myanmar example.

It’s interesting that AAB, in making his closing address at the UMNO annual assembly, had vowed to crack down on a planned mass rally in Kuala Lumpur tomorrow and gave his support to the police to break up the protest and arrest participants. Has it been a case of 'So it was said, so it was done' but perhaps carefully controlled so as not to bring about a Myanmar-ish proportion!

And certainly at such a forum, where keris drawing is an expected obligatory ritual of its leaders, AAB came out with a jaguh-ish (fighting) assertion:

“They are challenging the patience of the rakyat who want this country to be peaceful and stable. That is what they are challenging, not me.”

“Tapi saya mesti kata saya pantang dicabar (But I have to say that don't you dare challenge me).”

The mob (no, not the Bersih crowd, but the UMNO assembly) roared with approval.

‘... pantang dicabar ..’ – unique fighting words best presented in its non-euphemistic raw form as ‘don’t f-around with me’ which was of course designed to warm the cockles of the UMNO hearts with their leader - ya, Persekutuan Tanah Melayu terjamin selamat bila Pak Lah dalam kedudukan 'helming', with the last (English) word dedicated to those hardworking guys at Malaysiakini ;-)

Then, could it be (speculating of course) that the FRU attack on the peaceful crowd at Masjid Jamek was also meant to illustrate the resolve of a PM who takes-no-sh*t from the Bersih protestors, assuring the 'heartland' of his firm grip of the situation but of course not frightening investors away.


  1. In the fairy tale land of malaysia darul NEP, any public protest is deemed as a foul blow below the belt by those in power. With international news media broadcasting globally, it is taken to mean that the current Abdullah regime is tottering on its last legs. Umno short-sightedly sees itself as the god-chosen administration destined to rule (and of course, rob) the country, just as Moses saw himself as the divine messenger for the Jews

  2. Moses (pbuh) is the rightful messenger to his people. No way we should equate those UMNO munafiks with the blessed prophet.

  3. gee KayTee

    where were you on the 10th Nov? how come you are always commenting from elsewhere like malaysia kini or some other bloke's blog?

    are you those who prefer to have a say on the blogs, give powderful comments but never in the thick of action?

    sometimes, it is better to be there to witness the rakyat's stand against an oppressive government.

  4. KTemoc,

    For once you are fair on your comment on Anwar. You did not run him down or disparage him as in your earlier blogs.What you said about Anwar being the de facto leader of the opposition is clearly brought out the extent that they had to wait for him to present the memo to the king and that Anwar (not Hadi or Kit Siang)spoke to the international media.

    I enjoy reading your blogs KTemoc, even though you disparage Anwar and Keadilan. What most people would like you to write on is to CONDEMN, DISPARAGE...THE HATEFUL UMNO, AAB, ZAM,NAZRI,and yes...the bodek mainstream media...I think you can do that best.

  5. Hi KTemoc,

    You're dead on about the crowds being peaceful. Fact is, when I was there, the people in yellow were i scattered groups having been dosed once already.

    The FRU's 'dispersal' of the crowd was an overt act of intimidation, pure and simple.

    I was pissing my pants in the first few rows when they opened up with their tear gas, and let me tell you, if anyone finds me intimidating, then they're afraid of mice as well.

  6. It was a prediction that would surely come true - the pm must have instructed the police to "teach the mob a lesson"

  7. Hello
    I differ with the opinion expressed by anonymous at 3.08 pm. I do believe that the majority of Malaysian today is unhappy and are hoping for a change, including me.

    There are different ways of reaching one goal. A large number of people believed that street rallies would finally forced a fair Malaysian election.

    However, there are a large majority of people who feel that street rallies are not a constructive mean of reaching the goal. It may eventually, but not without price.

    Historically, mob revolution, demonstration etc had successfully toppled governments. It was a way of bringing changes in the past. In recent years, it remain a mean of bringing change in under or less developed countries like Indonesia, East Timor etc. However, this is not without the price of the peoples's well being. ...Look at these countries....are they successful now ? True enough, the people behind the revolution are now sitting in the chairs of their government office, or have since being toppled by someone else, but what else.....

    I believed changes can be propagated true the awareness, good insight, mature thinking, bravery,integrity etc of every voters in the country. This is where the opposition parties had failed. The majority of Malaysian voters need to be educated and informed. To the political parties, please stick to sophisticated educated politics. The government controlled media had completely block the oppositions and hence it is almost impossible for the opposition to effectively reach the people via the media. However, I am sure, there are ways of working around this oppression.

    Nowdays, we have the technological mean of doing what would be impossible in the past. Resort to sophisticated techniques, strategic politics etc. Perhaps learn from the Jews.

    It would be good if the opposition could obtained 70% vote from the people. I am not sure whether voting irregularities would be able to deny oppositions of their chairs once they manage to secure that astounding number of vote; for example, look at Kelantan and Terengganu in the 1999 election. It would be best that the opposition obtain vote because of the voters trust in them, rather than because of the unhappiness with the ruling parties. Otherwise, you get an astounding vote in 1999 and then you loose an astounding seat in 2003.

    I believe in peaceful rallies as a way of expressing our feeling and there is no reason to ban it. However, I would prefer to leave the rallies to the NGOs rather than the oppositions.

    Lastly, I have great admiration and respect to all the brave participants of the rallies.