Saturday, July 16, 2011
“When I arrived at Istana Negara, there were two policemen who were bengis (fierce)… they told us to disperse or they would use force against us.
“With the look on their faces, if they could, they would want to devour me,” said Samad..
In the third part of an exclusive interview withMalaysiakini on Thursday, the novelist and poet with his distinctive long white hair and beard, related his experience in trying to submit the Bersih 2.0 memorandum for free and fair elections to the Agong during the mass rally.
Samad was amongst the small group of protestors who had managed to march from KL Sentral - one of the flashpoints of the brutal crackdown due to the presence of top Bersih leaders there - to Stadium Merdeka and then to Istana Negara.
Earlier that morning, rally organisers had assigned two lawyers to bring Samad to the Hilton at Sentral after he expressed desire to join the demonstration.
Once assembled there, the Bersih leaders held a press conference (right).
The gathered started to move out of the hotel towards their goal, at which point Samad found himself sandwiched by riot police at the KL Sentral underpass along with several other Bersih and Pakatan leaders.
“When tear gas was fired, we were trapped, like at Tung Shin (hospital)… we had no choice but to go through,” he said.
In the brutal police assault, several leaders were arrested, among them Bersih 2.0 chief Ambiga Sreenevasan, Bersih committee member Maria Chin Abdullah and PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang.
Samad however evaded arrest and pressed on with other protestors, minus his chappals.
'I walked barefoot'
It was during the crackdown that Samad lost his footwear.
“I lost my chappals when I was hit by tear gas; it was chaotic. I ran to a wall to cover my nose and to find my water bottle and towel,” he said.
“I had to walk barefoot. There were stones on the ground. The other demonstrators offered me their shoes; one even offered me a Nike. I thought it was a nice pair of shoes ... I could not take them.
“Later, I was given a big pair of shoes until I arrived at Midah Hotel, Kampung Attap and someone bought me a new pair of slippers,” he said (photo).
“Two or three (more) people wanted to go barefoot and offer me their shoes too. Indian youngsters wanted to give me their shoes; Chinese youngsters wanted to give me their shoes. I felt very proud.
“Never have I seen a group of young people of different races united by a common ambition,” added Samad.
The final lap
With many Bersih leaders arrested and his two lawyers escorts missing, it was left to Samad to press on with the mission with the remaining protestors.
Two Bersih committee members tasked with handing Bersih's memo to the Agong later caught up with Samad.
“I was accompanied by spirited youngsters whom I had to calm down. Later two Bersih committee members accompanied me; they were the ones who brought the memo (to me) and helped control the situation.
“When we arrived at Stadium Merdeka, there were already many people (there). After discussing with the police… I started to sense danger as there were police behind us with water cannons ready.
“That was when I decided it was best for us to move on to Istana Negara,” he said.
Asked how he managed to reach within 200 metres of the Istana gates when many others could not even get close, Samad attributed it to divine intervention.
“Many people asked me that question. It was with Allah's help,” he said.
Samad, who was not amongst the 91 served restriction orders - dismissed suggestions that the cops had given him special treatment.
“I was tear gassed too; I felt like I was going to die due to my age. I went prepared with water and salt but I could not use them.
“There were people left and right gasping for air, asking if I had water. I gave them mine, and later other protestors gave me theirs,” he said.
'Would march again'
Samad was eventually stopped from completing the mission with just about 20 protestors in tow, with the palace gates in sight.
Negotiations with the police failed and the group was forced to abandon their task.
"It is not my fault but the police's," said the septuagenarian at a press conference after the rally.
"I have decided to write a letter to the Agong later, to inform him that the Agong's readiness to receive the petition was not properly handled by the police.
A week on, Samad remains resolved in his pursuit of democracy, saying that he would be prepared to march again.
“If I am still alive, if the cause is good for improving and strengthening democracy, why not? I am prepared,” he said.
“A literature scholar's duty is to the past; we record events. But I think with the turbulent situation now, we can no longer record the atmosphere. We too, become a trigger to that atmosphere.”.
In a statement from the Federation of Private Medical Practitioners' Associations Malaysia (FPMPAM) sent late tonight, president Dr Stephen Chow said that the sanctity of hospitals should be respected at all times including during times of disturbance and unrest.
He also voiced his support over the 11 doctors who came out publicly to slam the heavy-handedness by the authorities in their crackdown of the demonstrators.
“The federation certainly supports the action of these 11 senior doctors as they are voicing out their outrage and concern when patients' lives are put in danger.
“We are certain that all doctors, both in public and private practice would also feel the same when the sanctity of their hospitals and patients under their care are similarly affected,” said Dr Chow.
'Hospital should have been cordoned off on July 9'
But unlike the eleven doctors who condemned the police crackdown which saw authorities deliberately entering the hospital buildings - “consecrated places of refuge and protection even during war times” - the federation suggested that the hospital should not have opened their compound to the protesters in the first place.
“As wisdom in hindsight, the area where the hospital is located should have been effectively cordoned off way ahead so as to prevent any spillage of the activities of the day into its compound.
“We are certain that such responsible pre-emptive measures would have the full support of all rakyat including the doctors practicing in that hospital as it would certainly have prevented the unfortunate and ugly scenes on the afternoon of July 9 at the Tung Shin Hospital,” said Dr Chow.
Pointing no blame at the gov't
In a rather diplomatic statement, the federation also pointed no blame at the government for the Saturday incident which allegedly saw water cannons and tear gas shot into the hospital compound.
“We do understand that this is indeed also the stand of the government all along when hospitals were targeted (accidentally or otherwise) in other incidents in other parts of the world. This is indeed one of the international benchmarks of civil societies.
“What the eleven doctors were doing was to re-affirm our consistent support for this stand which is consistent with the moral stand of our government in this issue,” said Dr Chow.
The police as well as Health Minister Liow Tiong Lai had previouslydenied incidences of the dispersal methods ever deployed in the hospital compound right in the heart of Kuala Lumpur during the massive Bersih 2.0 rally, at the same time endangering the hospital patients.
This is despite the numerous photos, videos and eyewitness accounts to suggest otherwise.
But just two days after the denials, Liow announced that he has set up a high-powered ministerial committee of enquiry to investigate the matter, with the committee to be chaired by the Health Ministry secretary-general.
“Many leaders, both in the public and private sectors, are saying the government could have avoided the Bersih 2.0 (fallout) by not making such a big issue out of it,” Marina toldMalaysiakini in an exclusive interview.
“The government could have simply dealt with it in a different way as the issue at hand is not that controversial. If you ask anyone, 'do you want free and fair elections?', the logical answer is 'yes' - no matter what side you are on.
“The government should have said, 'we are for it too'.”
According to Marina, the government was in such an aggressive defensive mode over the Bersih movement that it made many Malaysians, including those who sat on the fence, angry.
On July 9, Marina participated in the Bersih 2.0 protest with her daughter and friends.
They started from near Jalan Pudu (Berjaya Times Square) and walked along Jalan Hang Jebat (formerly Davidson Road) in front of Stadium Negara towards the Olympics Council of Malaysia building where she encountered other friends.
“Apparently at one point, the cops had chased (the protesters) even though there was no reason to catch them and hauled them off.
“But later, we could sit and wait by the curb without anyone disturbing us. Jalan Hang Jebat and the small road that led up to Stadium Merdeka stayed pretty quiet.”
Did she tell her dad?
Marina also ticked off Prime Minister Najib Razak for hispersonal attack against Bersih leader Ambiga Sreenevasan.
“People thought 'how could you stoop so low',” she continued.
“And when they started arresting people wearing yellow T-shirts and put (Sungai Siput MP) Dr (D) Jeyakumar in jail - he is such a good person and has done a lot of good service - people got more angry. It is not fair to accuse him of being a communist.
“I think a lot of ordinary people decided that this is it. This is it and this is not fair, and we are going to out there and participate in the Bersih 2.0 rally.
“There are so many accounts of the aunty types who would not ever do anything or something radical in their life or never march, and these people decided to go, even those from outside Kuala Lumpur,” added Marina, who said she was at the Bersih rally for more than three hours.
When asked if she had talked to her father about the Bersih 2.0 campaign for electoral reforms, she categorically said, “No”.
“Because we are both extremely busy people and I cannot even keep up with him. On July 9, he was actually on a flight outside the country,” Marina explained.
“So I didn't tell him that I was marching. (But) we discuss all these things. He has his views, and we have respect for each other's views and that's it.”
from the distant beat of 2007 drums,
when the rakyat walked hand in hand,
and the call to “Bersih” first resound.
There was no colour, race nor creed,
we were all one yellow then,
free citizens in a not so free land,
seeking for elections, fair and clean.
And so July 9 came and gone,
as thousands KL streets did throng,
braving roadblocks, tear gas, water cannons,
for “Bersih 2.0" did they come.
Under deliberate crunch of batons,
the frantic crisp of broken bones,
the teary eyed multitudes,
sang loud the freedom song.
As their handcuffed hands were joined,
their yellow T-shirts stained,
their spirits stands undaunted,
brothers, sisters, Malaysians still.
After walking along the little lanes off Masjid Jamek, we heard the voices of hundreds of people coming from Chinatown, around noon.
Seeing all my brothers and sisters walking and chanting together just a few metres away, I found the courage to take of my jacket and Queen T-shirt to reveal the Bersih T-shirt I was also wearing.
The scene was very peaceful, people had flowers, balloons and a young lady was giving out self-made Bersih stickers.
We walked to the Jalan Pudu crossroad and stopped for a while.
There already was a big group of people there.
We waited a little more and I was amazed to see another big group of people joining us.
I was constantly texting a fellow dancer, my mother's best friend's husband and a PSM member, checking on what was happening at his end. They were all at different places.
I thought to myself, the crowd at Pudu was already big enough, but there are other crowds all over KL. Wow! The biggest rally I've attended was my first, the 2009 anti-ISA rally and the numbers were no where near this!
Right in front of us, we could see the FRU waiting, a few metres away from Tung Shin Hospital. Once everybody got together, we walked towards the Puduraya bus station.
When we got there, we stopped for a while, we chanted, we sang the Negaraku. There were people shouting "Patriot! Mereka datang!".
The Reds (I refuse to call them patriots!) were there, but we had the numbers and it made them turn back.
A few minutes later, we had to turn back because the FRU had come too close.
We barely walked a few metres, we were stopped again. Dang!
The police had cornered us! We were now caught in the middle, with nowhere to go.
Then came the order for us to sit down peacefully. (I found out last night, from Marina Mahathir's blog, that it was the police who had given that order, probably to make it easier for us to be victims).
We waited for the next order to be given. I thought that nothing bad would happen as the police would not dare harm us because we were clearly a peaceful group of protesters. Boy, was I extremely wrong.
Three or four times (I can't remember exactly how many times, for I was just too hyped up), they fired just enough of those gas canisters to make us run.
There was also this helicopter, which came down very low to spread the gas all over us. Strangely, after every little attack, rain would come, in drizzles.
Then came the last attack, in front of the bus station, the one that was so big that we had to run for our lives. I ran to the side, where the shops were, for cover.
The gas was too thick. Breathing became extremely difficult. I couldn't open my eyes, and my mouth right up to inside my chest was burning.
My body was defending itself, saliva started accumulating in my mouth and mucus in my nose. I didn't know what to do!
I could hear people spitting and blowing their noses, I did the same, and it helped a little. We were all suffocating at that point and I could feel my body going down.
A woman from the back shouted out to me, "Get up! Don't drop!" I then felt someone pressing on the back of my shoulders and another held me on my arm to get me going on my feet. Somebody gave me salt water and asked me to drink up.
What amazed me is that nobody could see at all, but we knew what was happening around us and everybody was helping one another. I must thank all my Malaysian brothers and sisters for that!
Rain never felt so good!
This reminded me too that I had this big responsibility to carry when I came, that I must get through with the cause for the Bersih 2.0 rally.
I wasn't only doing this for myself, for my family and my friends were counting on me! Then, I heard people shouting, "Keluar! Hujan!Hujan!" I followed the voices.
We were so thankful for the rain. Everybody took a few minutes to give thanks and say prayers for the rain. Muslims were silently saying, "Allah-u-akbar" and I also saw an Indian Christian man look up to the sky with his palms together, saying, "Thank you, all mighty Jesus. Thank you for blessing us with this rain!"
People were saying, "we may not be approved by the government, but we are approved by God Himself!"
Shedding tears of joy, I held my hands up to the sky and received the rain with many thanks to Mother Nature.
That feeling, I can never explain it to you. Even the police and FRU stood stunt for a while. I don't really believe in miracles, but this was definitely a miracle!
The crowd got back together and this time, we were all really angry and disappointed with the police and the FRU. They were still coming at us.
Half the crowd ran to Tung Shin Hospital, the other half tried getting into an abandoned building opposite the hospital. The police and FRU were clearly not going to stop their attack.
People inside Tung Shin Hospital shouted for us to come in to seek refuge. As fast as we could, we ran towards it!
Behind me, there were still so many of us, and it seemed like they wouldn't be able to make it before the police and FRU came to Tung Shin as well.
Gosh, that was scary. The people were clearly disgusted with the authorities, for shouts like "polis bukan manusia!", "polis anjing!" could be heard from all corners.
The police came closer, and they sprayed chemical-laced water into the the front of Tung Shin Hospital. How dare they!
We had to get away from Tung Shin, for it was getting too dangerous. If they could attack peaceful protesters seated peacefully on the streets, if they could spray chemicals at the front of a hospital, they would do worse things...
I thank those brave men who stayed back to keep the gates of the hospital closed while we got out.
We could not carry move on the main road as we were sandwiched from the beginning, so we continued on the back alley.
I saw people climbing over the gates of Tung Shin Hospital, with the help of many others.
I wanted to capture that moment with my handphone camera but could not because of the overloaded text messages from mum (who was my main supporter for taking part in this rally), Bersih's facebook statuses (on what was happening in and out of the Pudu group) and friends and cousins who were keeping in touch to check on me.
We continued to Changkat Chulan area, Jalan Sultan Ismail (where the Concorde is), Bukit Nenas, KLCC (to hear the speeches from Mat Sabu and Chua Jui Meng) and lastly, being chased towards Ampang by the police and FRU, where our walk ended.
Every rally I've attended has made me more appreciative of my reasons for taking part. The Bersih 2.0 rally, on the other hand, got me thinking of my priorities as well.
I'm sure Bersih would have had the same effect on those who were there. Bersih 2.0 changed my life!
Friday, July 15, 2011
Dozens of protesters, comprising both Malaysians and foreigners, gathered outside Mansion House at London an hour before Najib's arrivalfor a meeting with the London business community.
Yellow posters and banners, condemning the clampdown on Bersih 2.0 were unfurled, urging the Malaysian government to release six Parti Sosialis (PSM) activists dubbed "EO6" being held under the Emergency Ordinance which allows indefinite detention without trial.
According to theSarawak Reportportal, Najib in a big convoy gave a cheery wave as soon as he spotted the crowd.
It said the protest went off peacefully with the policing minimal and friendly.
According to a protester, PKR youth leader Ginie Lim the police deployed a truck to block the protesters from the view of the delegates attending the meeting.
Yellow begins to reign supreme
There was another peaceful protest at Downing Street, London, where the official residence of UK Prime Minister is located. Najib was there to meet his UK counterpart, David Cameron.
Both leaders signed a memorandum of understanding on enhancing strategic cooperation to combat trans-boundary crime and international terrorism.
Protesters in yellow clothes put up posters, in matching colour, that read "Shame on you, Malaysia PM, clean and fair election and free our leaders now".
Another protest will be called at the Inter Continental today in UK time 7pm where Najib is expected to attend a function.
Before the meeting with Cameron, both Najib and his wife, Rosmah Mansor, had an audience with Queen Elizabeth II yesterday in Buckingham Palace, who coincidently wore a bright yellow dress.