JULY 17 — A few days ago, I had a conversation with a taxi driver who was excited about July 9th. While he had supported the rally, and could list out the points for free and fair elections, he was too scared to attend because of the heavy police presence.
He told me of a Vietnamese passenger he had that day, who was curious about the many roadblocks around the city.
“I explained to him about the rally, and how the police were there to stop the people from entering the city.”
The Vietnamese was so surprised at his explanation, he told me.
“He said that it should be the other way around. That the police should be impartial, be there to protect the people, and let them rally for a few hours. He told me Malaysia is not a democracy. It’s true, isn’t it? Malaysia isn’t a democracy?”
I have but mixed feelings about the police and FRU behaviour on that day myself.
In my opinion, the tear gas attack in the KL Sentral tunnel was heavy-handed and extremely dangerous. [See my first-hand account of what happened in the tunnel on LoyarBurok: While there were some injuries (Anwar Ibrahim was among those who was hurt when shot at with a tear gas canister), there were thankfully no other casualties in the tunnel that day.
However, it could have been a different story. We cannot forget how Baharuddin Ahmad had paid for his rally participation with his life. Currently there are accusations that the police had withheld immediate treatment for Baharuddin.
I ask this: is tear gas or chemical water the wisest way to disperse groups of peaceful, and unarmed rally participants? Especially when they have nowhere else to run but into a confined space?
It was cruel and unnecessary, especially since the FRU were apparently ordered to fire tear gas canisters directly towards the people. What I saw that day, seems to confirm this accusation.
Then there are accusations of police brutality towards men who were suffering from the effects of tear gas. Don’t just take my word for it, take a look at the many videos documenting such attacks. In my opinion, it is not very brave to tackle people who are already partly incapacitated.
And yet, when the dust was settled, and the police had captured the people that they wanted to capture, we were treated with kindness and decency.
The police kept offering us water, and food. All acts of intimidation were dropped — and why not? We were already caught like lambs to the slaughter.
One officer told me, “Saya hanya ikut arahan.”
“Ya, saya faham tapi polis juga harus adil dan tidak ikut arahan membuta-tuli.”
I wanted to explain more but felt tired and confused.
While I have some sympathy for the police who felt that they were just doing their jobs, I feel that they, and the rest of us, have to take personal responsibility for their own actions.
We do have a choice to take the extra step, whether to withhold treatment for a dying man, or to punch someone who is already gasping for air and on the ground.
We have a choice to be humane, and yet still do our job.
I hope for the day where the rakyat can fully trust the Malaysian police in being treated with fairness and decency. I hope for the day that when I, along with thousands of fellow countrymen, who decide once again to assemble peacefully as per our Constitutional right, will be protected by the police, instead of being harassed, shot at with tear gas, and chased down. I hope for the day where I see the Malaysian police as my protector, instead of my oppressor.
In the meantime, I will wear yellow every Saturday, in support for the on-going call for electoral reforms in my country.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.