I was rudely awakened when our coach was waved into an R&R area somewhere along the North-South Highway just before Kuala Lumpur for a search & arrest of anything yellow. Two Special Branch officers brusquely barged onboard even before the coach came to a stop, and started questioning the driver, searching for any passengers in yellow and rummaging through personal baggage for anything suspiciously yellow. Many coaches were unlucky to be subjected to a more thorough search and questioning, and some further detention. Being an express Singapore-Alor Star coach, we were quickly waved off since we were not heading into Kuala Lumpur, and most probably due to the presence of foreign tourists in our midst.
The following morning, Saturday 10 Nov 2007, Kuala Lumpur was under siege especially in the vicinity of Dataran Merdeka and Istana Negara. Police were at every nooks and crannies, playing cat and mouse game with ordinary citizenry in yellow who called themselves BERSIH. BERSIH, meaning clean in Malay, is a coalition of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) calling for reforms to the current electoral system in the country to ensure free, clean and fair elections.
Some 30,000 heeded the clarion call to rally despite being declared illegal by Authorities, and where participants face immediate arrest. Peaceful rally on a noble cause was met that fateful morning with sheer brute force of Riot Police (FRUs), tear gas and chemical laced water cannon. In the aftermath, over 200 were arrested. However, the voice of BERSIH could not be easily silenced. The song of BERSIH resounded throughout the nation. I was awakened. I was awakened to Malaysia’s very own Les Miserables.
Many attributed the 308 political tsunami, wherein the ruling coalition lost its 2/3 majority in the august House for the 1st time since Independence in 1957, to BERSIH. I cannot but agree.
Despite BERSIH’s deafening voice, the Authorities decided to turn a deaf ear to her plea. BERSIH 2.0 would turn that voice into an angry song. The BERSIH bell tolled once more. Again, the Authorities attempted to clamp down on anyone or anything suspiciously yellow in the run up to 9 Jul 2011. Over 200 were arrested on flimsy grounds, some for just wearing the “illegal” yellow T-shirts. Again, BERSIH 2.0 was declared illegal, and the Government controlled main stream media demonised the rally in earnest.
Kuala Lumpur was under siege again. A total lock down by the Police. No one was allowed to travel into the City unless you can prove that you reside there or show cause for entering the City. I could not find any mode of transport to take me into the City. I was disappointed.
On that fateful morning, I waited with bated breath in front of my notebook for news. Early trickles of participants in yellow were quickly arrested, with sporadic chase down alleyways. Even hotels were not spared. I like many prematurely thought the voice of BERSIH 2.0 would be silenced that morning.
Thankfully, I was proven wrong. Trickles turned into streams, which in no time into torrents of yellow. At least fifty thousand strong managed to slip through road blocks and avoid arrest, and gathered at various staging areas. Shocked, embarrassed and outnumbered, the Police let loose the full force of FRUs, bombarding BERSIH 2.0 participants with tear gas and chemical laced water shower. Many were injured, and many more were arrested. Even those who seek shelter in a hospital and mosque were not spared. For posterity, Aunty BERSIH gained fame and Baharuddin paid the ultimate price, whilst the Police gained malevolent infamy.
I spent the whole day glued to the internet for the latest news update. I was angry with myself for failing to make the trip down to Kuala Lumpur, to stand shoulder to shoulder and be counted with fellow patriotic Malaysians to face-off tyranny. I was disgusted with the Government and Police for turning against the very people that they swore under oath to protect.
I prayed for their safety and well being, for my beloved country’s peace. I prayed for divine intervention to protect the participants from police brutality, which came in the most unexpected manner. Heavy downpours cooled temperature a few notches and granted the crowd a pause and relief from the relentless police assaults. Rain was God sent for those who were tear-gassed. It was, as if heaven was appalled by such brutality and thundering to the Police, “Enough is enough!”
The conscience of the whole nation was roused that day. Sadly, those who walked on the corridors of power failed to understand that the voice of people can never be silenced. What more when it had “crescendo-ed” into a deafening angry song!
Unsatisfied with half hearted attempts to reform the electoral system, the call for BERSIH 3.0 resounded one more time, not just throughout the country, but throughout the whole wide world. The organisers came up with an ingenious sit-in rally when the Police managed to obtain a pre-emptive Magistrate order against walking on the street. As before, participants were to gather at a few staging areas before converging at Dataran for the sit-in rally.
I was not going to miss this appointment come what may. I managed get my hands on the now renowned still illegal yellow T-shirt. I packed 2 bottles of water, a towel and a small packet of salt in case of being tear-gassed. I was prepared.
Once again I almost did not make it when the bus failed to turn up for fear of arrest. But nothing was going to thwart my appointment with destiny. It was God sent when a last minute express KL-SP bus was to return to KL empty in the wee hours of the morning. After a 4-hour wait, we jumped at this opportunity to travel to KL, without any thought of or arrangement for transport back as we were not sure if we were coming back.
We alighted at Sungai Buloh and managed to board the Komuter into Kuala Lumpur just before the service was suspended. We trickled into our staging area, Petaling Street/Jalan Sultan. As in BERSIH 2.0, spots of yellow gradually turned into streams pouring into the staging area which quickly turned a sea of yellow. Islands of green, Anti-Lynas, were amongst us. It was a carnival like atmosphere that morning. Those few shops that were brave and enterprising enough to open for business were enjoying a windfall, quenching the thirsty and feeding the hungry by the thousands. Police presence was ubiquitous and menacing.
As if guided by unseen hands, we started to flow out of Petaling Street/Jalan Sultan toward Central Market, and managed to go around the Police road block across Jalan Hang Kasturi, toward Bar Council Building at Jalan Raja/Leboh Pasar Besar. We sat, sang, chanted and pled to be allowed into Dataran Merdeka, but to no avail. We then moved to Jamek Mosque LRT station. The crowd had grown to, some estimated to be 250,000 strong. I reckoned 150,000 would be about right. Thousands more gathered in 10 cities throughout the country and over 30 cities around the world.
Dataran Merdeka was to remain “a bridge too far” and off-limit once again. BERSIH was being stonewalled again by the Authorities. So as to avoid any untoward incidents, Datuk Ambiga wisely called off the sit in rally around 3 pm. Admittedly, I was rather disappointed, feeling a bit of an anti-climax, but yet grateful for all seemed to end peacefully, or so I thought.
It was during our walk back to Petaling Street that the Police sprang into action. Tear gas and chemical laced water were released with impunity. Batons cracked heads, jack boots stamped abdomens, fists punched faces, and arms strangled necks. Bones were cracked and blood was spilled. Thousands were arrested. Utter madness, utter mayhem and utter stupidity!
I had my 1st hand experience being tear gassed. I went to join the front line facing off FRUs at Jalan Tun HS Lee/Tun Tan Cheng Lock crossroad. After 4-5 rounds of to-fro running battles, being tear gassed each round, we faded back into the alley ways back to Petaling Street at dusk. I had earned my battle scars, a veteran, so to say.
The citizens of the world, not just Malaysians, stood in silent shock of such relentless brutality unleashed by the Police on innocent citizens rallying peacefully on a noble cause. The conscience of the whole nation was shamed by day’s end. Like Ghandi’s silent protests that brought down the mighty British Empire, BERSIH 3.0 too had successfully awakened the nation’s conscience for a better Malaysia.
Viva BERSIH! Viva Malaysia!