Malaysian govt fears Bersih movt will make Merdeka Sq its 'Tahrir'

PSM leader S. Arutchelvan (speaking into megaphone) at Bersih 3.0 rally on April 28. Pho by Choo Chon Kai/PSM.

S. Arutchelvan, secretary general of the Socialist Party of Malaysia, is a veteran of many demonstrations. But the Bersih 3.0 mobilisation, which he estimates was between 100,000 and 150,000-strong, was the biggest he's been a part of in the country. “It was a huge success” he told Green Left Weekly, “and it terrified the Barisan Nasional [BN] government.

“The BN government sees Merdeka Square as its Tahrir Square. They do not want to see – and for the public and the world to see – images of it being occupied by democratic movement. It is their political survival.

“Since 2011 PM Najib [Razak] has been worrying about the Arab Spring spreading to Malaysia. He said his government would not let it happen.

“So on April 28, the riot police was used to prevent the people from getting to Merdeka Square at any cost.

“Four hundred and seventy-one people were arrested, including media and Suhakam [human rights] observers. One hundred and seventeen people were hospitalised (including two policemen). Thousands more would have been injured and sought treatment outside the hospital system.

“This government is weakening, so just the symbolism of hundreds of thousands of protesters having a peaceful sit-down demonstration in Merdeka Square would have been a powerful political blow.”

Since the Bersih 3.0 mobilisation, the government has tried to blame the violence on the rally organisers and opposition parties. Rumours have been going around that provocateurs planted by the police or government may have been placed in the crowd to give the riot police an excuse to fire tear gas and water cannons.

Arutchelvan says there is some evidence of “funny business” going on during the protest.

“Some people who were arrested said that they were arrested by police wearing yellow Bersih T-shirts. There were definitely police provocateurs in the crowd. I received some funny SMSs from people asking me where is the RM300 supposedly promised for them to join the rally. These were SMS's from people who blocked their names or called from untraceable phone numbers.”

But he does not think that the crowd breaking through the barb wire barricades placed by police on the roads approaching Merdeka Square was all the work of police provocateurs.

“For the last two weeks, people who have been involved in street demos were talking everywhere about liberating Merdeka Square. There was very strong chanting from the crowd to open the barricade, especially from the youth.

“Before April 28, the courts made an order banning people from Merdeka Square until after May 1. Bersih leader Ambiga [Sreenevasan] said we won't break the court order. Some people thought that the roads around Merdeka Square itself were not part of the order so that we could occupy those but not the field.

“However, on the day when we arrived we saw that even to occupy that portion, you needed to break the police barricade. So there was a lot of frustration and confusion.

“When Ambiga called on the people to disperse, maybe only around 500 people heard her. Then as her car was leaving in the direction of Merdeka Square, the crowd kept shouting 'buka, buka'-- 'open, open'.

“The government, and even some people in Bersih, are blaming opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim for inciting the crowd to break the barricade, but Anwar was telling the crowd to move away from the barricades when the barricade was brought down. I was just there right in front of him.

“However you look at it, the police and the government must take full responsibility for whatever damage that happened. The PSM is totally convinced that if the ruling government had allowed the people the freedom to gather at Merdeka Square, then the assembly would have been peaceful and there would not have been untoward incidents.

“All the speeches would have been presented with a good sound system and the organisers would have been able to disperse the crowd after the assembly in an orderly manner.”

Arutchelvan added that there would not even have been any rubbish around after the sit-in, had the authorities allowed it to go ahead, as the organisers would have told the public to collect the garbage “as happened in Kuantan during the anti-Lynas [an Australian corporation building a toxic rare earths refinery against people's wishes] assembly recently”.

“The breach of the barricades in Merdeka Square by a small group of the people cannot be used as an excuse for police terror on a peaceful rally... Until the police attack, the assembly was very organised, peaceful, colourful and very festive.

“There has been lots of speculation about who broke the barricade. It is my opinion that there is nothing really wrong in people breaking those barricades, for the simple fact that the people wanted Merdeka Square liberated and to stand true to its name 'Independence Square'.

“This was the popular chant of the people... It was a popular demand, not an isolated one. The police used discretion in allowing the people to rally from six points, though initially they said that they will not allow this. In the same manner, the police could have used their discretion in allowing the people to gather at Merdeka Square.

“Even though Merdeka Square was not liberated on April 28, there will be continuous efforts to liberate this public space in the future. Let us not forget the heroic task taken by the students and the Occupy Dataran in the last two weeks in occupying the square leading to Bersih 3.0.

“The people will continue to oppose draconian laws. Previously huge demonstrations have been held against the Internal Security Act and many other draconian laws. Fighting against draconian laws is a democratic right of the people. In this case, the court order was obtained at the 11th hour and is ex-parte [legal decision made by a judge without requiring all of the parties to the issue to be present]. It is the will of the people that matters in a democratic movement, not the will of a court order obtained in an undemocratic fashion and enforced by police force.”

Video by GreenLeft TV.

Photo by Kannan Ramasamy.

Photo by Choo Chon Kai/PSM.

Photo by Kannan Ramasamy.

Photo by Bawani K/PSM.

Photo by Choo Chon Kai/PSM.

Photo by Bawani K/PSM.

Photo by Choo Chon Kai/PSM.

Photo by Bawani K/PSM.

Photo by Bawani K/PSM.

Photo by Choo Chon Kai/PSM.

Photo by Bawani K/PSM.

Photo by Choo Chon Kai/PSM.

Photo by Choo Chon Kai/PSM.

Photo by Choo Chon Kai/PSM.


By Foong Wai Fong & Pahlawan Volunteers

[Pahlawan Volunteers is an advocacy group made up of a Cyber-Malaysians who believe that Our Country is our Responsibility and that each and everyone of us must stay engaged with the development of our society. Pahlawans support any group that does the right thing for the country.]

As someone on the ground who witnessed the event; all we can say to the authorities is “you can continue to stage theatre; but your acts are so bad that nobody believes you.” You can continue to fabricate lies with manufactured acts to demonize Bersih, technology has rendered you naked; you would only embarrassed yourself more.

Pat Lu and my fellow Pahlawans arrived as early as 9am on April 28th, they stayed with colleagues of WAO and Dato’ Ambiga at Pasar Seni. Because I only landed in Kuala Lumpur the night before and was suffering from a slight vertigo from pressure change during flight; I only got into Pasar Seni at about 2pm.

The journey on the LRT to the city center was a breeze, the trains were light in passenger traffic and many young people in yellow were taking the same train from the Paramount Garden station where I boarded the train. I found that this time around, people are very comfortable wearing yellow; be it the official Bersih 3.0 T-Shirt or any tinge of yellow they can put on.

The phones were not working and SMS took a long time to get through. I could not connect with Pat and the Pahlawans, so I joined Celine, Choy and our friends from Parti Gerakan Penang. We moved to the street between the Bar Council building and HSBC; joining the rest of the crowd; just milling around.

Our goal was simple, be there; not having to do anything, but just being there for Bersih 3.0. For us, the power is turning up in numbers and standing around peacefully to simply to demonstrate our seriousness in supporting the cause of Bersih 3.0 to push for clean and fair elections for a better Malaysia. The crowd was orderly, sober and purposeful.

To us, peaceful demonstration sends a more powerful message. The message is not directed at the recalcitrant authorities but to fellow Malaysians; that we do have rights and we can safeguard our rights when we stand united as one.

Bersih Succeeded in Uniting Malaysians to a Common Purpose

The people who were out there, regardless of race and creed demonstrated tremendous solidarity. The tension of Bersih 3.0 was much lower than Bersih 2.0. An atmosphere of carnival in the air; T-Shirts, scarves, masks, balloons, banners and placards; flowers and accessories that color the streets yellow.

This time around we are heartened to see many more young people, families and in particular, a larger Chinese Malaysians participation compared to Bersih 2.0. The racial mix of participants reflects the changing attitude among various groups.

Bersih succeeded in uniting Malaysians to a common purpose. Bersih leader Ambiga must be saluted for taking great risk in uniting the nation; while our politicians continue to poison and divide the people with racial hatred.


At our section of the town, it was peaceful although congested with people similar to sardines in a can; chatting and chanting intermittently the Bersih call until at around or about 3.00pm. All of a sudden, fire gas were fired from the buildings above. We felt as though the police ambushed us.

Tear gas canisterI experienced being tear-gassed for the first time. Thanks to my friends who handed me a wet towel and salt in time, I regained my vision. The crowd did not panic, it moved away from the aggressive police attack. We moved together towards Bukit Bintang as the police chased us from behind.

Similar to Bersih 2.0, the rakyat assisted each other, passing salt, sharing water to drench handkerchiefs, giving out disposable face-masks and giving a helping hand to get away from the advancing police and Federal Reserve Unit [riot police].

Police Knows No Respect

We knew the police were carrying out orders from some higher authorities. Those orders only demonstrated the arrogance and the total lack of respect or regard for the people.

The authorities blamed Bersih 3.0 organizers for not taking up the government’s offer to move to alternative venues proposed by the government.

The fact is; Dataran Merdeka is symbolic and being at the Dataran Merdeka is the message the Rakyat has for the government and the world. Bersih is not about getting tens of thousands out on the street to show defiance, it is about reinforcing a message that Malaysians want to clean up the system and move truly towards independence from bad governance and manipulative politics.

Obviously the authorities did not agree with this point of view. They kept on demonizing the Bersih organizers. The fact that the turnout has grown at least 5 times from Bersih 2.0’s 50,000 to Bersih 3.0’s 250,000 shows the growing number of people agreeing with Bersih that the current electoral system and governance is seriously faulty.

BN Government Lost All Credibility

Judging by the turnout and the demographics of the crowd, the people showed quiet defiance of the authorities. The People have no choice but to reject the current ridiculous misrule.

Instead of respecting the wishes of the people and cede to their wishes; the authorities continue to believe might can suppress and control the people. Anyone with average IQ would have concluded that Bersih 3.0 could have been a non-event if Merdeka Square has been allowed for a two hour sit in.

Well, we were naïve, the government’s refusal to allow this was all stage managed; they want to manufacture chaos with their agent provocateurs.

If you watched the videos sent in by eyewitnesses at Bersih 3.0; you would have the following questions:

Why would tear gas and water cannon be used when the crowd was just standing there peacefully unarmed; they could have immediately gone after those few who attempted to break the barrier that would send a strong message to the rest on the spot.

When the PDRM [Royal Malaysia Police Force] showed their video of the police car that crashed fast into the crowd and the protestors crowded round the car to overturn the police car; you wonder how a lone police car came to crash into this crowd; and how come none of the thousands of FRU and police officers standing nearby did not come quickly to bring the scene?

The charge that the protestors broke the barricade to enter Merdeka Square is also suspicious. Eyewitnesses said that the go-ahead was given by the police to enter. For that matter, the crowd was there on the eve of Bersih since 10pm and inspite of the tension and emotions; no one broke the barrier until after the organizers had asked the crowd to disperse the following day.

As someone on the ground who witnessed the event; all we can say to the authorities is “you can continue to stage theatre; but your acts are so bad that nobody believes you.” You can continue to fabricate lies with manufactured acts to demonize Bersih, technology has rendered you naked; you would only embarrassed yourself more.

It is your recalcitrant attitude and your stupidity that got you there; those 250,000 people in the KL City center, all over Malaysia and overseas cannot be wrong!

Everyone could have stayed home on a Saturday resting or doing something else if they are not upset or angry enough to brave the heat and danger of going to the street to send this much needed message. You ignore this message at your own Peril – the time will come. You can’t ignore the writing on the wall; it will just take a few more attempts to get there.

Partnership with Civil Society

Malaysian politicians must learn and be mature in their role in their partnership with civil society. First, politicians must recognize and respect that the people are the boss. When Civil Society takes the lead, the cause is non-partisan and civil society is the leader. If any politicians or elected representative participates; they do so in their personal capacity as a Rakyat, not as a leader of their party or constituency; therefore the command belongs to Bersih, the civil society organizer.

Politicians who are YB or YAB must understand that these ranks are given to them by the Rakyat, not some imperial or feudalistic birthright. Politicians gained more respect and support if they respect that.

BERSIH is Not a Protest, It is a Process

The biggest winner of Bersih is the Malaysian people. In a year, the crowd has grown from 50,000 to 250,000 plus the thousands who log on to the follow the event. It is the growing consciousness and political awakening of the people that we are celebrating.

It is obvious that people are overcoming their fear that has terrorized Malaysian society for a long time; and that people are beginning to understand that they do have rights, that they can stand up for their rights and the Power of One is critical, each and everyone is important to make up crowd that gives critical mass to the message. People are also beginning to take responsibility as a group; that we must all work together to Say No to misrule and bad governance; we cannot sit at home and expect others to do it for us.

The Arrogance of the Government is the Cause of this Outrage

The accumulation of issues; Bersih’s electoral reform, Lynas’ toxic rare earth plant, the rape of Jalan Sultan for an unnecessary LRT line, the injustice did to Tan Beck Hock, just to name a few.

The Bersih process will go on and on, and the PEOPLE are ready for that. The lawyers from the commendable Bar Council were there, the medical Practitioners and health workers came out in droves voluntarily to organize the medical support. We are making true progress; nobody ordered them to come, they came with their hearts to serve with love for this country.

Are you proud to be a Malaysian? I am.

Are you proud that you were there at Bersih 3.0? You bet, I am.

Malaysia can only be a better place if Malaysians are united in this purpose; and reforming the electoral system is the only way forward to build a proper functioning democracy for this country.

We will stay undaunted; even if it needs to get to the nth Bersih event.

If you did not make it to Bersih 3.0; we will see you at the next Bersih rally.

Now everyone can be a Pahlawan! "Like"

Meantime, we continue to wear Yellow every Saturday.

This is a story from one family perspective........

From the slightly higher vintage point by the Dewan Bandaraya Kuala Lumpur fountain pool, we had a panoramic view of Dataran Merdeka when we arrived via LRT to Masjid Jamek by 10:30 am on 28th. April 2012.

Lines of policemen were standing behind the water-filled traffic barriers with razor-wires coiled in front of them. Later in the afternoon, two sections of these barricades were breached – one nearer to the fountain of Dataran where we had delivered biscuits and water to the Students’ Occupied Dataran site late last week, the other in Jalan Raja.

By noon, the crowd was getting bigger as more participants swept in from Jalan Tun Perak from the left-hand side, and Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman (TAR) behind us. It was also around this time that the red-trucks of FRUs began to rumble into the Dataran via the Royal Selangor Club side road, and parked themselves in tandem-formation facing Jalan Raja Laut. At times, accompanying them were more truckloads of police; the impression then was that authority had underestimated the size of the enlarging crowd where insurgence of more people was coming towards the Dataran from Jalans TAR, Perak and Raja Laut, besides those walking from Jalan Sultan-Jalan Petaling-Jalan H.S. Lee.

An hour later, the Polis Air Squadron was hovering above in their helicopters, with cameramen on its cargo-bays. There was even a paraglider who would descend to much lower altitude in surveillance; each time it flew overhead, there were shouts of defiant. On the other, as each LRT train rolled by just overhead, there would be cheers from us to the passengers inside who would waved with yellow or green scarves.

The camaraderie atmosphere continued – with elderly folks and veiled lasses who had came from Johore, Kedah, Penang and Trengganu. Yellow balloons with “Bersih”-stenciled were bounced from one crowd to another; and whenever the green-shirted Lynas groups drifted by with their tall panel-posters there were cheers to “hold them high”.

Around 1pm some police trucks attempted to drive in from Jalan Tun Perak, and were delayed by swamping jeering crowds besides being met with thrown water-bottles. In each truck, the police personnel on the starboard would video-cam the maddening scene as they drove by.

After Anwar had given his speech, we noted movements along the front rank of the participating crowd. The "big push" was on. Shouts of "tolak, tolak" were encouraged by elderly men among our rank; some women by the pool were chanting Islamic verses.

CS was on high wanting to cross the road and rush forth, but the reluctance of fellow family members held back – and it was just as well. Less than twenty seconds after the big push from the two breached barricades, the water canon sprayed, followed almost instantly by canister pops of tear gas.

However, from our standing position, we had yet to feel the impact of these treacherous machined devices thrown at us, but the crowd in front of us, and across the road dividing the edge of Dataran, was scrambling to the pool!

Later, it transpired that the barbed wires surrounding the perimeters of the padang could had been sniped. When the barricades came down, the sight of the rush to Dataran was exhilarating. Upon recollection, the initial momentum of the surge had a surrealistic pace. For one thing, unlike a typical control of a crowd, there should be strong movements by the police to prevent the mass entry. Instead, what cs saw was that the front rank was running - indeed scattering and retreating - as if under one direction to allow the entrance of the inflowing crowd. Later, upon reflection, this was a ruse – the trap. By the time the first batch of demonstrators had reached the front of the FRU water-canon trucks, the mace-laced sprays were sprouting forth. Moments later, one estimated less than 10 seconds, gas canisters were flunked into Jalan Raja Laut, and towards the Dewan Bandaraya fountain-pool where we were standing and watching.

People was rushing to the fountain-pool to wipe their faces - we were pushed towards the water-fall side; many people fell headlong into the pool.

Youngest daughter Y ended up in tears and tear-gassed, crunching her spectacles and mobile, facing the splashing fountain. She was - as later recollected - like children in Palestine facing The Wall waiting to be executed. We lost her there in those moments of disarrays; we later contacted her in the Bangunan Abdul Samad Medical Base Operation with other casualties.

As for K, before she could get the salt and wet towel from her bag, she was already coughing violently and within seconds, lost the ability to breathe. Her air way has shut down, "What a way to die! I haven't said good-bye yet".

The crowds were pushing their ways to get near the fountain-pool to wash their faces. Each time K tried to get back on her feet, she got pushed down again. She was beginning to loose consciousness when someone push some salts into her mouth, and a Malay woman shouting "jaga Auntie ini! ". Rapidly, Koon’s air-way opened up and got back the ability to breathe. With the help of CS, K managed to stand on her feet and walked away from the pool. CS told K to wipe her face as tears, saliva and nasal secretions were all over the face but she could not feel nor sense it. It was quite a sight - like that of an opium addict on "cold turkey". But the burning sensation on the skins was intense, and K was still coughing and choking. At least, now she could BREATHE! The firing of the tear gas did not stop and we continually got sprayed and splashed by the chemical-laced water from the cannons.

Finally, we managed to scramble and ran towards Jalan Raja Laut’s back lanes. Some people were sitting and resting and trying to get back their breaths in the open space .Once K have had regained her breaths, instinctively and by training, she was offering salts to those who were still coughing violently; and offered them some comforting words of reassurance.

K was especially touched by a young Malay boy of 7 or 8 who has calmly answered her that he was OK; and he threw a caring glance to his father. She was so much wanted to hug him and to tell him he is the bravest boy had ever seen. They looked shaken and were badly affected by the tear gas. Who wasn't? There were many of us especially the wargamas, sitting there, trying to get back our breaths. Before we can become just a little comfortable, we have to get up and ran again because the next salvos of canisters busted in, drifting into the narrow back lanes.

K was only half-worried for her 2 daughters as she have faith in the "tolong menolong" spirits of all BERSIH supporters. Only when CS told her that we still could not locate Y at about 4pm that then panic and fear began to sink in. Y has asthma and the thought that she may have a respiratory arrest really jittered me. CS had contacted elder daughter X in Coliseum who was vomiting along the way rather distraught in losing her sister.

The three of us eventually managed to regroup near Sogo; CS intended to go down Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman to look for Y, but the incessant toasting of tear-gas canisters prevented this mission; a couple of canisters just spiraled along with the running legs as he fled. CS meant to pick up one as a souvenir when another just swirled into the verandah, with gas still sprouting; my, my, are they shooting low! We were at least half-a-kilometre from Dataran, and yet these animals were still relentlessly chasing us.

Three of us were, by now, frantically trying to call Y, and K also asked Pa where our medical team people could be based. All the routes and lanes leading to Dataran Merdeka were blocked or we have to turn back as people were retreating from that direction. Firing of tear gas continued but the effect was milder now due to the distance somewhere near to the Sogo underbridge.

We attempted to go back to Dataran via Raja Laut, but tear-gas was stilling being fired. Just when we thought of using the Jalan Kuching main road to Dataran, the first salvo was released onto the highway. Eventually, we managed to go on a long and tortuous route through the Masjid India alleys to reach Jalan Ampang while tear-gas was still being discharged along Masjid Jamek LRT and former Bank Bumi-CIMB Bank complex. Later, when we double-back on the way home, many youths on bikes were cruising and ramming around this vicinity to taunt the authority.

Finally, we did managed to find and negotiated with a St. John's Ambulance to take us to the debris-slew Bangunan Abdul Samad Medical Base Operation Centre to meet Y. The ambulance in Jalan Tun Perak reversed, turned into Dataran which frankly looked like a surrealistic war-game after-scene with tossed barricades, barb-wires mangled around, and upturned pavement slabs besides the pools of wet surface.

Inside the ambulance, the nurses were saying that this time, there seemed to be more casualties than Bersih 2.0.

We had to walk out of the Centre by ourselves, together with a 70-year old Pakcik [Malay for "uncle" - used as a term of respect for older man] from Muar. He was separated from his family when people started to run helter-skelter away from the menace. Along the way, policemen were resting by the river bank. One thing that CS noticed was that the majority of the policemen were NOT peninsular Malays, but looked more like those from Sarawak. It's a tactics as employed in the Tianmen Square 1989 incident where every PLA units of the Military Regions were deployed except Beijing.

We eventually managed to locate Pakcik’s family as his phone was not functioning well and we were really concerned about his physical well-being. Again, all the roads that we intend to trek through to reach his family near a mosque in Masjid India were inaccessible again. We waited and rested for a while by the Masjid Jamek embankment as it was really tiring for our dear Pakcik.

While resting, we met CS old university mate, CM who asked Y how she felt about all these happenings. Being a true-blood politician, he offered this piece of wisdom: “Through feeling shaken, you will learn courage”.

After almost an hour, we managed to meet up with Pakcik'’s son. We parted and we wished them to have a safe journey home.

We trekked to the Dang Wangi station to go home, and were dying to wash off the debris and toxins from our bodies. While enjoying this luxury of having a good shower, we thought of all the pakciks, makciks, kakak, abang and adiks who have traveled all the way from Kedah, Kelantan, Trengganu, Pahang, Johor, Penang and Ipoh who were still on the roads to reach their homes !

Amongst three of us were teasing each other that we could jolly well suffer from PTDS because of this near-death experience, while CS were seemingly unscathed by the tear gas. Don't know what kind of genes he has; and don't know why my two daughters do not inherit them?? !! Ha Ha Ha !!

From Y, she is looking for her savior by the Bandaraya fountain pool where after the initial salvos, the police charged in and hand-mangled stranded male participants one of whom she later saw lying on a bed in the Medical Base. She is looking forward to meet the Al-Jeezera/Al Hijrah reporter who led her to a safer place from the surrounding mayhems in Dataran Merdeka on that day. He had advised her that if any police whom they ever met, he would do the talking to say she’s his personal assistant, and she is to keep quiet as they walked to safety.

While X was sorry for not being able to help mum and dad during the pandemonium, she is silently thanking someone for giving her a lift up when she fell into the pool; thank you for offering me a place to hide (in the mamak restaurant in Jalan Raja Laut); thank you for someone who offered the salt that helped with her breathing; thank for those messages from friends when she was shaken by this terrible happening; thank you every Malaysian for caring; and THANK YOU BERSIH FOR WAKING ME UP.

K asked "Why so cruel? Why so high-handed? Such potent and deadly / lethal tear gas and chemical-laced water!" and we also asked will we join BERSIH 4.0 if there is one? Until and unless this recalcitrant and insincere government relent and we have a clean and fair election, the answer is YES for BERSIH 4.0, 5.0…………here is a formidable force emerging as Malaysians gain heightened level of political consciousness. With this and mounting international pressure, the change is inevitable and imminent.

This momentous movement had recharged cs thoughts on more than anything one would expect - tear-gassed in one’s own country - on the eve of an oldie 67-year birthday, too!

“Is it worth it?”

A free-lance photographer took a picture of two disheveled old folks, and had asked that question.

Before anyone of us can reply, an siren ambulance separated us across the road, and when it had passed by, the cameraman had gone……. But our answer, if asked again, if we meet again, if anyone were ever to ask again - would be that Bersih 3.0 definitely is redefining the moments and movement of our generations.

Joint Media Statement: Media groups condemn arrest, harassment, violence towards journalists during Bersih rally

29 April 2012

We, from Malaysian media civil society organisations, condemn the arrest of two journalists and police violence towards others who were covering the sit-down protest for free and fair elections in Kuala Lumpur on 28 April 2012.

Media reports, video feeds, Facebook postings and tweets by the said journalists or their colleagues indicate at least nine such cases:

* Radzi Razak, a journalist with theSun, was admitted into hospital yesterday due to injuries suffered during an alleged attack by at least seven police personnel. His left leg is broken and he may be suffering from internal injuries. He has lodged a police report on the assault.
* Arif Kartono, a photographer with English newspaper Malay Mail, alleged being assaulted by six uniformed police personnel and had his camera smashed.
* Koh Jun Lin, a photojournalist with online news site Malaysiakini was arrested after taking photographs which document alleged police violence against protestors. Koh’s camera and memory card were also confiscated. He was released yesterday but only his camera was returned.
* P. Malayandy, a photographer with Tamil newspaper Makkal Osai, was allegedly assaulted by about five policemen for taking pictures of police detaining protesters. His RM7,000 camera was allegedly snatched away by the police.
* Al Jazeera correspondent Harry Fawcett alleged police violence when his crew was documenting arrests and ill-treatment of protestors. Fawcett and colleagues were reportedly shoved and held, and their camera damaged during the incident. His video feed of Bersih 3.0 after the incident was recorded using Skype from an iPad tablet because the camera could no longer be used.
* Huang An Jian, a photographer with Mandarin newspaper Guang Ming Daily, was arrested while taking photographs of the arrest of protestors and alleged police assault. He was released yesterday.
* Channel News Asia video cameraperson Kenny Lew alleged being punched by police, and had his tripod seized.
* Chen Shaua Fui, assistant editor of Mandarin news site Merdeka Review, claimed rough handling by four policemen who tried to snatch her camera, and when she produced her media accreditation card, it was kicked aside and she was threatened with arrest
* Lisa J. Ariffin, a journalist from news site Malaysian Insider was reportedly hit by a tear gas canister aimed at the crowd. (Note: Malaysian police has been reported to fire teargas canisters at crowds of protesters rather than into the air during previous demonstrations.)

Our organisations view these incidents as a concerted attack on media freedom since they appear to be aimed at preventing professional journalistic documentation of alleged police violence against some of the Bersih protesters.

In recent months, photographs and videos have captured scenes of violence and brutality against peaceful gatherings. These have embarrassed the perpetrators of the violence and those behind them. Only a few days ago, a mob attacked the peaceful Occupy Dataran encampment. Among those targeted were those activists wielding cameras or smart phones, ostensibly in a bid to thwart any attempt to document the violence and identify the perpetrators, leading up to the Bersih rally.

Yesterday’s rally, estimated to have attracted some 80,000 supporters, was led by the Coalition for Free and Fair Elections (Bersih 2.0).

The Coalition had intended a two-hour sit-down beginning 2pm at Kuala Lumpur’s iconic Independence Square, but could only assemble around the square following a court order obtained by the police on 27 April preventing the public from entering the area until 1 May. Multiple barriers and a razor wire were also erected around the square which was heavily guarded by riot police on the day of the protest. Chaos ensued after the crowd which had congregated from late morning was forced to disperse after police fired tear gas and shot chemical-laced water at them, and incidence of violence from both sides were reported.

We urge Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak to conduct a thorough and swift investigation, and charge those responsible for these violent acts, including those allegedly committed by police personnel towards journalists. Compensation must also be given to those whose equipment have been deliberately damaged. The Prime Minister must also adopt firm measures to ensure all uniformed personnel understand and respect the role of journalists.

Journalists, including press photographers, are professionals tasked with bearing witness to matters of public interest and reporting them ethically. This function is especially crucial when there are contentious subjects such as yesterday’s protest, and information from as many sources as possible is needed to reveal the larger picture. Like the police, journalists have a public duty to perform and they should be afforded protection towards this end. Unless journalists are obstructing police work, they should be left alone to do their job. And certainly, no journalist in a nation that prides itself as a democracy should ever be arrested for doing their job.

Jointly issued by:

Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) Malaysia
Charter 2000-Aliran
Journalists Union of North Malaya
Penang Chinese Media Journalist and Photographers Association (PEWAJU)
Penang Press Club
Penang Press Employees Cooperative Society Limited

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