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KUALA LUMPUR, May 3 — Each generation has a story to tell, a single accomplishment that defines the ethos of their generation. A unifying achievement that is not for their benefit, but for their children that will ultimately inherit the world that they have carefully built and shaped. Even in Malaysia, each generation has a story to tell – our effort to repel the Japanese, independence from Britain, suppressing communism to spurring the national economy to be part of the Asian Tiger Economies.
That is why on April 28th, 2012 – 80,000+ Malaysians made their way as close as possible to Dataran Merdeka to make their voices heard, calling for the government to reform the election commission to ensure the next general election will be free and transparent. What started as a seemingly peaceful event turned out to be another typical Malaysian protest event – where the might of the police was brought forth to the demonstrators regardless of whether they are women, children or the elderly.
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Bersih 3.0 for me started very innocently, met up with my friends at KL Sentral Station before making our way on foot to Masjid Negara around noon. When we arrived at Masjid Negara, the crowd was gathering peacefully and listening to the speeches by Anwar Ibrahim, Lim Kit Siang as well as Mat Sabu. During our time there, we could clearly see the police line blocking Jalan Kuching and this would be one of the ‘barriers’ of which we were told not to breach by the Bersih committee.
My friends and I decided to get as close to Dataran Merdeka and we ended up at the roundabout on Jalan Kuching, near the Central Bank Building. When we got there, everything was orderly and we even got to see Karpal Singh making his way to the police ‘field office’. During this time, there were only regular policemen forming the line and no FRU units were deployed yet. Also during this time the protesters and police were mingling and taking shelter from the heat without much fuss.
Things started to go wrong when close to 3pm (my timing may be inaccurate), FRU trucks started to arrive, making their way to Masjid Negara as well as Dataran Merdeka. Being so close to Dataran Merdeka, I couldn’t think why the police would have called the FRU since the protesters were still orderly and within the control of the existing police line. The FRU personnel started forming and all civilians were asked to move away from the police line, which signalled that things were about to go wrong.
Surely enough, the police started ringing the bell and canisters of tear gasses were fired towards the protesters and the police line was move forward to push back the ‘charging’ protesters. Things started to get even more chaotic when water cannons were deployed and the police line started charging the crowd, which caused panic among the protesters and caused them to seek shelter in the DBKL building as well as surrounding buildings.
Soon after the police started their ill-planned crowd control, we were told that the Bersih committee has instructed for everyone to disperse and go home. Similarly the police also instructed the protesters to disperse and make their way away from Dataran Merdeka. Dazed and confused, my friend and I tried to find a safe route home when we encountered the remnants of the barricade as well as the helping those were tear gassed at Dataran Merdeka by offering them water and salt.
As we tried making our way home, I was detained by the police officer for wearing the Bersih shirt while my friend also was brought along. Although the ‘arresting officer’ did say that it was I that he was arresting, not my friend he might as well arrest my friend for other random crime. During our walk to the holding area at Dataran Merdeka (ironic, I know) I was verbally and physically abused (although not as bad, but still was shoved and prodded by the batons).
Here is when the police did follow their operating procedure of which even I had to grab the attention of the officer to hand over my identification card to make sure of course they can do their job properly. So what were the mistakes?
1. My ‘arresting officer’ did not inform me what crime I have committed
2. My ‘arresting officer’ did not inform me of my rights as I am being detained/arrested
3. My ‘arresting officer’ did not identify himself upon my request
4. My ‘arresting officer’ did not inform his superior of whether I am arrested and his superior could not identify the arresting officer
5. The police officer in charge informed us that we will be not be charged and released after we give our statement
The police officers were also clueless and unaware of what to do with the detainees, they were all looking for direction from their superiors and it is very disturbing when none of the officers could answer why we are being detained without charge. Initially the officer informed us that there were orders not to arrest us, only for us to give our statement and released at Masjid Negara. However that soon changed as we were transported by bus to PULAPOL in Jalan Semarak.
As we made our way to the bus, we passed through scores of policemen still in their riot gear exhausted from ‘clubbing’ and arresting people. The bus that I was in was filled with women, children, elderly as well as the injured. Both of the men injured had face/head injury which justified immediate medical attention at the nearest hospital. But I guess the police was more concerned with detaining us to take our statement later at PULAPOL.
I was in the first convoy of detainees that made their way to PULAPOL (bus number 4) and this was perhaps the highlight of the day for me. Everyone in the bus had the right to be scared, anxious and worried about their fate. But for some reason we started to wave to the police and other protesters that lined up the street. It’s amazing how the friendly smiles and waves of fellow citizen made us happy as we were brought to PULAPOL for our statement.
When we arrived there we were body searched and segregated for ‘processing’, as we waited for our turns as more and more buses and trucks made their way to PULAPOL. When my name was called, I was given back my identification card and was instructed to go to make my ‘statement’ but instead the officer just took my name, IC no., address, phone number and asked for my occupation. No statement was made and later my picture was taken as part of their capture for OPS AMAN (Oh the irony).
The police did provide us with snacks (bread and water) as well as dinner (white rice and chicken curry which I didn’t eat) as we waited for our release. As the hours slowly ticked, more and more detainees started to arrive and lawyers are still prevented from entering the area. At this point we were told no charges are being brought to us and they are in the process of releasing us from PULAPOL. However the process seems rather intentionally elongated, if not inherently inefficient.
I managed to call my friend to pick me up at PULAPOL after I am released, but the police decided to take us on the bus to Hentian Duta to drop us off. During this process, the police did not inform us of where we are being released and I recalled the destinations vary between Bandar Tasik Selatan as well as to the front gate of PULAPOL. I arrived at Hentian Duta around 4:00 AM before my friend picked me up and send me back to my car.
There were many irregularities and inconsistencies in the way the police handles this situation; from my observation:
1. The police did not clarify with the detainees whether we were being arrested or detained?
2. The police did not clarify what laws had been broken and if we were not being arrested why were we not allowed to leave?
3. The police did not take our statements and what was the purpose of the information that was given?
4. Why was women, children, elderly and the injured detained with the rest?
5. Why we were not allowed to meet with our lawyers who were waiting outside the PULAPOL gate?
So I managed to get back home around 5amand pretty much slept through the day. It was certainly an eventful event and I hope the government listed to us and heed our demands for clean and transparent election. Bersih 3.0 was not necessary if the government promised to reform the election commission and guarantee free and fair election for the upcoming general election. This is after all basic human liberties to choose our own elected representatives.
So the question still remains, what story will my generation be remembered for?
Hopefully my generation will be known for making Malaysia a home for Malaysians – regardless of race, religion and belief.
I want my generation to be known as a generation that stood up for what we believe in.
I want my generation to be known as a generation that took action instead of being passive commentators.
I want my generation to be known as a generation that is not afraid of intimidation.
I want my generation to be known as a generation that reminded the government of its duties.