Two dramatic days

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The police tried everything – arrests, intimidation, and the media. They failed to dampen the Jerit cycling team’s spirit. Each day was a struggle, but on the final day, it was Jerit that recorded a resounding victory. Defying the odds, their cyclists reached Parliament to achieve a remarkable victory, recalls Aruthchelvan.

17 December 2008 – Memo to Selangor MB

t was the day before the Parliament rendezvous. Both teams from north and south were supposed to unite today to pass the memorandum to the Selangor Menteri Besar. The TV and radio continued to broadcast, asking people not to participate in the 18 December handing over of memorandum at Parliament. The media say that it would be an illegal gathering and action would be taken against those who participated.

In the morning, the southern team left Kajang towards Shah Alam while the northern team left Klang towards Shah Alam. We planned to meet up at Bukit Cahaya Taman Pertanian, around 4km from the Selangor Mentri Besar’s office. As we approached the venue, we were a bit surprised that there was no heavy police presence. No road-blocks. I was then told by Zahir and Nik, both aides of the Selangor MB that they have spoken to the CPO of Selangor. He told them that they could only allow 50 metres of cycling – as a symbolic action. The orders not to allow cycling were clear.

When we reached Bukit Cahaya, the police presence was minimal. Meanwhile Dr Jeyakumar and Jerit national coordinator Kohila was holding a press conference in Parliament house to counter the allegations that Kumar was exploiting the below-18 cyclists and to announce arrangements for the next day. Meanwhile, in Sungai Siput, around 60 parents turned up and decided to sue the Selangor Chief Police Office for their action in detaining the children and allegedly manipulating the whole issue.

At Shah Alam, I met with the Acting OCPD Chandra. He said that his orders were clear. He would arrest cyclists if they were seen cycling on public roads. He also said that the most he could allow was 50 metres of cycling.

I kept telling him that he could not arrest cyclists if they were scattered around. He said that his orders were clear and that they were federal-level orders. I told him that good OCPDs used their discretionary powers.

I then went to Bukit Cahaya. By then, both teams had arrived. We had a short meeting among the organisers and decided that we would break the squad into two. The first would be a squad of adults totalling around 30. We called this squad “Berani kena tahan” (ready to be arrested). They would ride one-by-one with a gap of around 30 metres in between. They would use a new road heading towards Dataran Shah Alam. The second group, the rest of the cyclists, would ride from Dataran Shah Alam to the state secretariat (SUK).

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The OCPD was now very unsure. He did not agree that we could start from Dataran Shah Alam.

I told him that we had compromised enough and beyond that, we could not agree.

He just nodded. As for the other team, he said that if they crossed the road-block, “I will stop them.”

I told him that he could not stop a cyclist if he or she did not break any rule.

But we did not pass through his road block, we used another route. At Dataran Shah Alam, while we readied to cycle, our comrade Exco Elizabeth Wong arrived. She escorted us in her official car. We reached SUK. There was a sense of accomplishment as both teams had reached their destination safely.

Soon we waited for the MB. We were concerned that the MB would not be able to meet us as he was not feeling well. But it was not disappointing as MB Tan Sri Khalid appeared.  The cyclists were delighted especially the southern team as this was the first time a Menteri Besar was greeting them.

The MB told the cyclists that this was part of the struggle and the state government would try to fulfill their demands. It was a victory in Shah Alam.

That evening, Selvam and I had a meeting with the Acting CPO Datuk Abu Samah. We met his team in IPK. The OCPD of Dang Wangi, Brickfields and Sentul, SB, Crime and Public Order chief were present. It was an hour long meeting.

The CPO said that the orders were clear. No cycling, not even one person. We said cycling was the theme of the campaign and we could not compromise on this. He said no way, though he sympathised with us. He also said all our arrangements in Parliament – lunch for 130 cyclists and the press conference was also cancelled. He added that only a delegation of 20 would be allowed and that they could facilitate.

We kept assuring him that we would cycle but not break any rule.

But he said that his orders were clear.

During the meeting, I received a text message informing me that our security chief, Sivarajan, had met with an accident and had been taken to the University Hospital. With this scenario, the organising team held a meeting to strategise while the TV and the media kept broadcasting warnings that action would be taken against cyclists and those taking part in the campaign.

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18 December 2008 – Cyclists reach Parliament!

It was the final day –  a day that would determine if the organisers and cyclists end up in Parliament or in some police lock-up. We had arranged lunch at the Selangor Chinese Assemble Hall, but then again, we were unsure and we decided that maybe we should just organise lunchboxes.

By 8.00am, our buses started to arrive in Kuala Lumpur. Here we were initially misguided by the police. The police had started their manoeuvres. One bus was stopped and told that it would be taken to the Brickfields police station; another bus was stopped and told to wait; yet another bus was diverted and later told that it would be escorted out of Kuala Lumpur. At this time, we had decided that if the buses were stopped, the participants would just alight and walk towards Parliament. The police were equally confused. They did not get clear instruction and this resulted in all our buses carrying cyclists managing to reach the Lake Gardens, our pre-arranged location.

Now we had two strategies. We got our cyclists and supporters to slowly walk up to the gates of Parliament. The police did not stop them because their instruction was to ensure the cycles do not reach Parliament. Once our cyclists and supporters reached the gate, and as the Parliament guards were making arrangements for 120 cyclists to move into the multi-purpose hall in Parliament, we embarked on plan B.

Under plan B, we had 30 cyclists cycle one by one to Parliament. The first cyclist was Simon. He managed to start cycling but was stopped by the police. He then started to push his cycle, but even this was stopped by the police. A stand-off with the police ensued. Police could not give any legal argument to justify stopping the cyclist apart from saying they had orders. The police wanted to declare the cycling an illegal procession but we did not have any cyclist following the first one. This was our tactical move which baffled the police. Amer Hamzar and the lawyers team were also there. The poor police held on to the bicycle as if it was the most dangerous weapon heading towards Parliament.

Soon the police manning the Parliament were getting restless. We then argued with the ground command, Tuan Hamid. He was trying to be reasonable but again he said he could not allow any cycling as this was his orders. Once again, he had nothing legally to stop the cyclists. By this time, Dr Jeyakumar had led a number of Opposition MPs to come down to negotiate with the police. Sivarasa, Gobind, Tian Chua, Dr Hatta, Manogar, Manikam and a few others came by.

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The police now started to panic as they wondered how they were going to stop those who had been invited to parliament. Then the police chief said that they would allow one cyclist. He then agreed to allow five. The lorry carrying the cycles then appeared in front of the road leading to Parliament. Bicycles were unloaded. Then the police got worried and tried stopping the bicycles.

By then, some of the MPs started to ride the bicycles inside. The police were dumb-founded. Twelve bicycles managed to go in. At this time, the police created a scene and arrested one supporter and tried to arrest a few more.

By now, we knew that we had won as 12 bicycles did manage to go into Parliament. The Deputy IGP’s orders had been defeated. Police from three districts led by the CPO of Kuala Lumpur failed to stop bicycles from entering Parliament. It was a victory and we stopped there as we did not want more arrests to take place.

The cyclists who managed to enter Parliament got tremendous support as they rode in. The police looked defeated by all counts. The programme inside Parliament went on without any incident. Speeches, lunch and a press conference were held. Outside, the remaining crowd dispersed to the Chinese Assembly Hall awaiting a victory celebration.

The victory celebration commenced at 3.00pm when the cyclists returned. They were given certificates and medals. Speeches and victory slogans thundered in the hall. It was a well fought two-week campaign and it ended in Parliament. Many cyclists were in tears. The organisers were proud that they had achieved a historic victory.

The police tried everything – arrests, intimidation, and the media. They failed to dampen the team’s spirit. Each day was a struggle, but on the final day, it was Jerit that recorded a resounding victory.

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