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My Bersih 3.0 experience: The day the police became hooligans — Christina Foo

APRIL 29 — Dear Editor,

This is the first time I am writing to you because I feel that it is very important for me to give my first-hand experience of the PDRM insanity.

I am in my early 50s and have always been a model citizen. I have never taken part in any previous rally or demonstration. However this year I decided that I needed to support Bersih by being there where it counts.

My friend Lean Bee and I drove from Petaling Jaya into the city but was blocked off at Syed Putra so we decided to drive back to Asia Jaya, parked the car there and took the LRT. The train when it arrived was packed to the brim. That was a good sign that a lot of people were coming. Had expected to be stopped by police at the stations but there were no signs of them. As such we got into the city without any other challenges.

My first question for the PDRM is:

Why block most of the roads if you are still going to let us into the city anyway?

Did you ever think about the tourists who needed to get in and out of the city upon arrival and for their departure?

On reaching the city we met up with four other friends — all of whom were first-timers to rally. The oldest in our group is Dorothy who is 72-years-old. The streets were full of people in yellow and green. We ourselves did not dare wear any of those T-shirts for fear of being picked up by the police. The whole atmosphere had a carnival feel to it. There was the singing of songs including “Negara Ku”. Lots of picture taking. Every one seemed to be in such a happy mood.

What surprised me was that there were so many Chinese there. For a long time , we Chinese were in a comfort zone and therefore have always seemed to take a backseat when it came to things like this. As such, it was a pleasant surprise to see so many youngsters and many had their parents with them.

At 12 noon along the way to Dataran we stopped many times to look at the different posters (some were very creative and some funny). At one point, we even stopped under a palm tree to talk to a number of policemen who were taking shelter from the sun. One of them named Nawawi even encouraged us to walk further down to Dataran as in his own words that was “where the action is.” We asked him if they were going to attack us using water cannons and tear gas. He smiled and said that they were not given any instructions to do so. After a bit more conversation with him, we happily took his suggestion to move closer to the “action”.

By now it was 2pm and we made it to the spot where they had barricaded the road with razor wire. What caught my attention was that the PDRM had positioned elderly looking policemen standing in a row behind the barricade. The FRU, trucks and men in sky blue T-shirts were positioned further inside. I thought that this was good as having older policemen there meant that they were not expecting trouble. After taking pictures we decided it was too crowded there and decided to walk back to the Masjid Jamek area.

Second Question: What were you thinking when you barricaded the place like you did? It made me feel very sad as it seemed like we Malaysians are terrorists who are a danger to the police force when in fact nobody there seemed to be carrying any weapons other than the FRU and police.

Meanwhile, all mobile phone lines seemed to be blocked as none of us could call out. However, we could still receive and send text messages. But everyone was still in a jovial mood. There were Malay pak ciks who told us they came all the way from Terengganu using their own money. Some said they were from Kelantan. There was a Chinese family of four from Kuantan who had driven over the night before and had to put up a night at Swiss Garden Hotel. There were supposed to be 20 buses that they had chartered but at the last minute the bus operators told them that they could not do so as they were threatened by the transport andtTourism ministries that their licence would be revoked if they were found to be ferrying people for this cause.

Third Question: Why threaten those who are just trying to do their business which is to provide transportation? After all, the people who want to attend the rally will still find a way to turn up.

By 3pm, I was answering many text messages sent by friends around the world and I was telling them how good the situation was whereby it felt like a carnival and all the different races had come together for the same cause. Inside, I was secretly feeling a bit sorry for myself for not having attended the previous Bersih 2.0 which was more exciting. But 10 minutes later everything changed. People started shouting “ Turn back, turn back” “Tear gas”. I quickly put on my goggles and I also had an industrial mask. The goggles were great over my spectacles but the mask did not work. My face had a burning sensation and that was when I took out salt to rub on my skin and ate some of it.

I wasn’t sure what to do as my friends and I were separated by now. So I decided to enter a Malay restaurant opposite OCBC bank. There were already many people taking refuge there. Everyone was great. We were all helping each with salt and water. Someone got me a chair to sit on while another was passing out sweets. Meanwhile, outside was like a war zone scene from a movie. So many tear gas canisters were being fired even though the street in front of the restaurant appeared to be empty.

Meanwhile, inside the restaurant, a women’s leader did a short speech to thank the restaurant owner for allowing us to seek refuge there. All of us clapped and cheered her for her sense of wanting to do the right thing for her fellow countrymen.

More tear gas was still being fired and then someone from inside asked the restaurant to pull down its shutters. At 3.30pm there was a loud banging on the shutters from outside. Someone inside shouted “Jangan Buka”. I was wondering if it was people on the street trying to get in. Turned out that it was the police. They had forced opened the shutter. The first policeman who came inside was screaming obscenities at all of us. He proceeded to push the tables and kick the chairs that were around him. That was when I felt really, really terrified. He was walking towards me and he looked like he wanted to harm me. He kept shouting “Keluar! Keluar!” I did not know what to do. Did he want us to go outside so that he could beat us up or put us in a truck?

More Questions:

a) Why did you have to pull open the shutters? Those of us inside were not troublemakers; otherwise, we would have stayed outside.

b) Why did you behave like a hooligan? Is that your nature or were you under instructions to do so?

c) As a policeman, isn’t it your job to protect us citizens? Instead, I feared for my life when I saw you coming towards me.

d) What was your purpose of forcing us back onto the street? Did you not want us to be off it?

Fortunately, there was a YB Gan around together with her assistants inside the restaurant. They told me to sit tight and wait. Miraculously, the policeman must have recognised the YB because he instantly calmed down and just stood quietly while the YB told all of us to leave by the back entrance and once there, people were helping us to climb through a gap that led to Masjid Jamek where we stayed there for a while.

I think the older ones like us who stayed downstairs got off easily but the younger ones who were resting upstairs did not get a chance to escape and I was told that they were beaten up by the police. I did not see it with my own eyes. Perhaps those who witnessed it may wish to affirm this.

At 4.20pm, there were a few people in Masjid Jamek who asked all of us to go out. I was still terrified because the FRU was standing in a row blocking the path back to Dataran. I was worried that they would charge at us when we went out but they did not. I quickly went to the Masjid Jamek LRT station but the shutters were down. I couldn’t get in to take the train. Why did they do that if they seriously wanted us to leave the area?

I then proceeded to walk towards Pudu to regroup with my friends who had their own stories to share.

Kudos to the young boys and girls of St John’s Ambulance Malaysia who were handing out free mineral water to us.

This whole incident has made me really hate and distrust the police. Instead of frightening me away from demonstrating, it has instead made me more determined to exercise my rights as a citizen of Malaysia. I love my country but not the way it is being managed. If there is another demonstration I will definitely be there.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication. The Malaysian Insider does not endorse the view unless specified.

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