Sembang-sembang recalls a memorable day-trip to KL on 9 July 2011 and describes what he saw and heard.
I had to make that trip. Najib had been promoting it the whole month while Khairy and Ibrahim Ali had been so inviting. The police and that fat cat at the transport company had made it look like an obstacle challenge run in KL city. I’d always wanted to try that new sport.
The bus dropped me off at Pudu Station on the eve. No check points along the North South highway.
People from the East Coast got it tough. Every car was checked. People were questioned why they wanted to go into KL and had to give the addresses where they were going to stay in KL. Many cars were sent back. Gombak had a four-hour long queue. No buses were running from Bentong. A couple paid RM72 each for a taxi ride from Bentong to KL.
I decided to stay in China Town as it is near the Merdeka Stadium – though I knew full well that the stadium was by then a police fortress and possibly a mass detention centre on the day of the rally.
Most hotels in China Town were full. I checked into a room and soon had an old pal and two new friends sleeping in. By midnight we heard that the Special Branch were checking the hotel guest lists and were going from room to room looking for Bersih T-shirts. We were not raided.
When the morning of the big day arrived, nothing had been finalised as to when and where to meet for the rally. Smses were flying around. The three original meeting places were heavily blockaded. Kampong Baru mosque was blocked off by midnight. Sogo and Dewan Bandar KL had hundreds of police. The National Mosque was shut down. Nine persons were arrested nearby at the Masjid Jamek area later in the morning.
People were milling around in China Town. Police and SB were by now everywhere. Nobody showed much concern about them. Only a few shops were opened. By noon, Jalan Sultan and Petaling Street were jam packed. Then we heard that the Unit Amal, the advance group of Pas, had started to march from Pasar Seni just a block away. Some groups from across the river were blocked from joining us. Tear gas was fired.
By 1.00pm Jalan Sultan had become another starting point. The streets were full and people had to move towards the Kota Raya-Pudu junction. The crowd filled the junction to the brim for half an hour but could not move towards Bukit Bintang as the FRU (riot police) had blocked the road in front of Tung Shin Hospital. Khairy Jamaluddin and his gang were at Bukit Bintang. A helicopter was hovering above us.
Soon another police team with acid-laced water cannons and tear gas arrived at the Maybank building, sandwiching the crowd in between. Acid-laced water was sprayed into the crowd, reaching as far as the main entrance of Maybank. Police fired tear gas right into the crowd. A boy was badly gassed and had to be rushed into the hospital.
The crowd retreated into the back alley opposite the Pudu Bus Station and behind Tung Shin Hospital. More tear gas was fired into the back alley. I saw four canisters fired into a compound next to the hospital. A group of 20 or so police personnel began to shout and arrest people. I was among the last few to run into the the waste land in front of the Bursa Malaysia building with the police chasing us.
It had started to rain and that eased the stinging tear gas a bit. The mass of people walked along Jalan Raja Chulan and Jalan Sultan Ismail, and at each junction they were joined by more groups that had been split earlier. We soon grew into a one-kilometre long crowd along the road, attracting onlookers from hotels and their staff. Some tourists joined us. By now the crowd had regained their spirit, shouting “Bersih, Bersih!”, “ Hidup Rakyat!”, “ Reformasi!”, “Allah Akbar!”.
A dozen policemen nearby smiled and had their photos taken by the crowd when they were told, “Senyum, muka akan naik Facbook nanti!” (“Smile, your face will be in Facebook later on!”) A traffic policeman stopped his big Suzuki bike at the junction and let the crowd walk into Jalan Ampang.
Here we were met by another equally long crowd. We had regrouped! In jubilation, everyone yelled in joy and clapped. That was the highlight of the march. A police van carrying officers was given right of way while the crowd clapped and laughed while someone shouted, “Turun, Turun!” to invite them to join us.
By now the crowd stretched further than the eyes could see both ways. It looked like a two-kilometre long crowd. We stopped at the KLCC junction and sang the ‘Negara Ku’ and shouted more slogans. We felt that we had had a successful march: we had walked in the centre of KL for four hours, withstood numerous brutal attacks by the police – and finally regrouped and re-united as one determined people.
KL was ours to walk. No cars. The rain had cleared the polluted air of KL. Women and men of all races and ages, stung by tear gas attacks and acid water, had been giving one another salts and sharing water to wash off. Some argued and held off the police while letting others escape. Others shared biscuits while asking one another about their home-towns; we were just glad that we shared the same aspirations.
Half an hour later, another acid water cannon truck appeared and started spraying while the crowd ran into the KLCC garden, Avenue K and further down the road. Police fired tear gas into the crowd again. A dozen mounted police on their horses, complete with riot gear and batons, trotted down the road. At Ampang Park, another team of FRU were waiting across the road. The crowd began to disperse and head home. We had made our point.
On the bus back, we received an sms that 59-year-old Encik Baharuddin bin Ahmad, husband of Puan Rosni Malan (head of the women’s section of Setiawangsa PKR), had collapsed and died after tear gas was fired into the crowd at KLCC. Earlier we also had news that Anwar Ibrahim was injured and felled while his bodyguard was hit in the face by a tear gas canister fired directly at them.
Throughout the rally, the rakyat had been orderly and peaceful. We bear witness to the widespread violence committed by the police.
Sembang-sembang is the pseudonym of a Penang-based activist.