Saya yang dibankit shares with us his fearful and disappointing experience at the anti-ISA vigil in Penang on 1 August and gives us some sound advice.
This is how I experienced the candlelight vigil at the Speakers’ Square in Penang on the night of 1 August 2010 to commemorate the 50 years of ISA in this Bolehland.
I attended a similar vigil two years ago in the open space in front of Dewan Sri Penang and the atmosphere was totally different from this year’s vigil. People gathered peacefully, the proceedings went on without obstruction by the police, and people went home peacefully with zero arrests. Naively, I thought this year’s event was going to be the same. I was wrong.
When I reached the Esplanade, where the Speakers’ Square is located near the seaside, I could not drive into the area. Police roadblocks were set-up at the only entrances to the sea-front. We had to park the car along a street opposite and walk past the big field and then head to the Square. Along the way, police personnel outnumbered ordinary people. I thought perhaps we were early and people were on their way because the event was scheduled to start at 9.00pm and we were there at about 8.45pm.
As soon as we reached the Square, we met friends and comrades. People were greeting each other, smiling and talking, but most of the time, I was observing the movement of police personnel. It was mind-boggling that something might happen: “This is a peaceful candle light vigil”, “This is Speakers’ Square designated as a space for people to gather and express their views freely”, “Why there are so many police personnel?” were some of the thoughts floating in my mind.
What was most disturbing to me was the other ‘pro-ISA’ crowd who suddenly created a disturbance and started shouting out loud. My friends and others who attended the gathering started to move away from this group of people.
Then the police force came and started to disperse the people, saying something like “Ini adalah himpunan haram, saya bagi lima minit untuk bersurai (This is an illegal assembly; I give you five minutes to disperse)”.
One NGO person started to negotiate with the OCPD on the people’s rights to gather peacefully. While he was talking, the “pro-ISA” crowd started to push around and create a chaotic situation.
Despite the warning, the people walked away slowly, some did not move, some stayed on, some walked slowly and stayed on again. I followed a group of people to a nearby area. While walking, suddenly I saw two NGO activists being pulled by police personnel to the police trucks parked nearby. My heart started to beat faster for this gathering had become an “illegal” assembly, and the police were serious about arresting people – so different from the vigil that was held two years ago.
Again, a warning was given and this time in a loud tone: “Bersurai sekarang! (Disperse now!)”
So we we walked, again slowly to the field. I hesitated and thought about walking back to the Square to reach my other friends.
But two police personnel saw me turning back. To my surprise, they were quite polite and asked me to walk home: “Adik, baliklah (Little brother, go home now).”
So I went back to join the crowd and stayed at the centre of the Esplanade. People were starting to make calls and giving updates about what was happening, calling for help for those who had been arrested, and planning the next move.
After about 15 to 20 minutes, police personnel started to walks toward us in a line of about seven to eight stretching from left to right along the field. We had no choice but to walk further heading to the walkway outside the field site. We stayed there, waiting for our next move or at least staying and observing what was going to happen. The police personnel then stopped advancing and left us alone. Ironically, a group of ‘other people’ walked toward us. I suspected that they were the ones who were shouting and making annoying moves in the Square. These people were hefty, about 15 of them. Judging from the way they walked, they were not afraid of the police and behaved like they owned the pedestrian walkway. We had to walk away from them to avoid any contact with them. We crossed the street and finally we were cut loose from them.
This whole scenario took about 30 to 40 minutes. It was an experience filled with fear and disappointment. Fear of being arrested by the police for no known, legal reason. Fear of being in physical contact with the thugs. Disappointment over the state of Malaysian democracy. After March 2008, we are still stuck with this oppressive manner of crushing people’s basic rights to gather peacefully. Worse, politics, police, and thugs have become fused into one in our Bolehland society.
But fear no more. When these things happen again, my advice is, stay calm – for you have done nothing illegal; stick with the crowd – for then you will feel empowered; avoid the trouble makers – they are the rakyat who show us the ugly side of Bolehland politics.
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