Hafidz Baharom’s account of a supposedly ‘illegal rally’ supported by the King but not the police.
Yes, people. We honestly did it. 50,000 people thronged the streets of KL from morning till evening demanding electoral reforms.
Or, if you wish to believe the police, 6,000 people. But then, if you were to believe the police, you’d also have noticed three police cars that were supposed ‘damaged’ by Bersih supporters along Jalan Pudu.
I will proudly state that I do not believe the police, nor any person in any government linked media outlet that talks of Bersih 2.0, be it the dastardly Utusan or even the New Straits Times. And I say it proudly and with surety for a very simple reason.
I was there. At Dataran Merdeka first behind the FRU lines. At Central Market’s entrance afterwards. On Petaling Street after that and finally, joined up with the rally at Maybank, Jalan Pudu, Tong Shin Hospital and then onward to Stadium Merdeka which I arrived close to 4 p.m.
So let’s start with my trip into KL, which began at 11 a.m. I managed to get to the Kelana Jaya LRT and board it by 11:22 a.m, as per my status. I then started tweeting feverishly after that, arriving at a rather quiet Pasar Seni. Throughout the LRT trip, people were quiet. In fact, I was joined on board the LRT with an old uncle in a white, buttoned up collared t-shirt, who looked at me, smiled and nodded.
As I disembarked at Pasar Seni, police presence was already high. I headed to the Annexe Nasi Kandar to be greeted by a mamak full of police officers eating their lunch before the entire event. It was also here that I met a member of the Bar Council who told me that there were rumours that the trains were already shut down, and that there was already some violence at the Kuala Lumpur Railway Station.
After buying a huge bottle of water which I thought would last the entire day, I just stepped out and sat at a corner facing Dataran Merdeka. This was where I noticed the water cannons and FRU personnel parked, mentioned on my Twitter account. This was also when members of the Bar Council walked past me heading towards what I thought was the KTM Kuala Lumpur station. As I thought to join them, I saw the guard at Dayabumi looking nervous. About half a minute later I learned why.
Right opposite of where I was, across the Dayabumi Parking Lot, I heard chanting, and then started seeing people gathering. It was truly an amazing sight. While the mantras of Bersih were being yelled, there were also some anti-government slogans as well. And, of course, there were cries for ‘Reformasi’ too.
However this was when things got a bit hilarious to me. The FRU personnel were parked too far ahead from Dataran Merdeka, and actually had to tell the security guards to remove the barricade from the parking lot because they couldn’t reverse their trucks properly.
After that piece of absurd wingding comedy was over, they got out and aimed the tear gas launchers over the crowd and fired.
The problem was, and again, this is another piece of comedy, that they shot the canisters too close to themselves and the media who were in parallel with them.
It didn’t help that we were all downwind; thus, the media, the Bar Council lawyers and the FRU unit themselves were all affected by the tear gas as well.
Now I wish to remind everyone that this was the first time I ever took part in a protest. And while I had water, I had no salt. But the members of the media had salt aplenty. And yes, the stinging was horrendous. And I shared my bottle of water with whoever needed it, and everyone was doing the same thing, regardless of their race.
The crowd regrouped in Dayabumi’s parking area, coming out at the Pos Malaysia entrace right in front of Central Market. I waited on the police’s side, talking to a friend on the phone.
Again the police fired tear gas into the crowd. Unfortunately, due to bad aim, some of them ended up in the Klang River. The crowd dispersed once more. I hung back, answering some text messages and tweeting while sitting on a barrier right in front of Pasar Seni LRT station. This is when, after the crowd had moved, the police fanned into the station to look for people. I just smoked and continued tweeting until a passerby asked me how he could get to KLCC since the LRT’s were halted, the station closed. I gave him directions to walk along Jalan Pudu, make his way to Jalan Bukit Bintang, then Jalan Sultan Ismail and cut through to Jalan P. Ramlee.
I then noticed people marching towards Jalan Pudu and joined the crowd. When we reached Maybank, the street was full of people of every race, religion and age. I saw people younger than me, in their teens, yelling their lungs out. This was when the police started with the water cannons. At first, nobody budged. People were just cheering and screaming their lungs out.
Then the tear gas was shot again, and people needed water once more.
While people were running away from Maybank, a helicopter came in low at Puduraya, literally billowing the loose dirt into the crowd. I doubt this was part of their ‘crowd dispersal technique’.
I slipped along with the crowd into Jalan Pudu Kecil, which is actually where Karpal Singh’s office was. The 7-Eleven at the corner was closed, and people were washing out their eyes, refilling their water bottles at a mamak eatery that remained open for this particular day. It was also here I again met my friend from the Bar Council. And noticed people praying behind me, on the grass in front of the Maybank tower.
The crowd, after recuperating once more, then walked towards Jalan Pudu. This was where I met a few friends. This was also when it started drizzling.
It was also at this time that I met the same uncle who was on the same train with me all the way from Kelana Jaya. He told me that this was something that he was doing for my generation. Then he called the FRU a bunch of bastards for the way they were acting.
And then it started raining heavily. The crowd started cheering. In fact, some people thought this would stop the police’s tear gas canisters from affecting them. After a second round of tear gas not dispersing the crowd, some people decided it was time to sit in front of the FRU.
They were dead wrong. The police shot 6 to 8 rounds of tear gas at once into the crowd, literally making people ill, including myself, to the point where even the skin on your arms burn. This was also when a person was hit by the full brunt of the tear gas effect to the point of lying still on the ground, unable to move. This was a Chinese guy, and people asked to help him. I reached him only in time to feel ill myself to the point of being unable to breathe, with my eyes burning with tears.
Some good samaritans managed to drag him on to a slip road, where there was a stall which was closed but still had their plastic tables and chairs out. He was vomiting, retching and continued to just sit on the road until people told him to sit on a chair in the stall and recuperate.
I personally had to do some personal recuperating myself. In fact, remember asking for some salt, which a Malay guy gave me a crumb of rock salt to use. It was good enough.
After this, the march went back on to Jalan Pudu, but this time the crowd was divided into two locations. Some of the crowd headed towards a dead end road, while most of the people headed into Tong Shin Hospital and the Chinese Maternity Hospital grounds. I was in the maternity hospital at first, but then headed out to the street, thinking that I wouldn’t want to be cornered into a location like this.
After dragging my friend acrosss the street, we witnessed the most brutal, dumb, unthinkable act by the Federal Reserve Unit.
They opened fire on both hospitals. The Tong Shin hospital parking lot was shot with chemically laced water, and then both hospitals were shot with tear gas.
From across the road, my thoughts went numb. How can you shoot tear gas into a hospital?! Where was the logic. In fact, where were their brains? Also, it was a maternity hospital. The last thing newborns should experience was a whiff of toxic tear gas!
We were then marshalled to get into the hospital grounds by the Bersih handlers. It was then that chants of ‘We Want Peace’ started. It was also here that one woman asked the younger generation to step up, and two girls started yelling at how dumb the police were to shoot into a hospital, with outrage.
After things calmed down, people started making their way out of the hospital grounds, unto Tengkat Tong Shin. This is a small road into a dense residential zone where people in their homes where encouraging the cause. It was here that we lost the crowd and decided to make it to Stadium Merdeka in a small group, sneaking through Low Yat and then walking down Jalan Hang Tuah. Sadly, this was already close to 3:50 p.m, and it was around this time that we reached Jalan Stadium and walked towards the entrance, to find barbed wire fences at every entrace.
It was here that we just sat on a curb, smoked a few cigarettes, waited for a friend of mine to join us. It was also here that I was surprised by a friend from Pahang who had turned up for the Bersih rally as well.
We then dispersed (actually more like regrouped) near Central Market and ended up eating at a nearby mamak while discussing the day’s occurence.
Then, we ended up walking to the Pasar Seni LRT station, which was still closed, and then had to walk to KL Sentral where, again, the smell of tear gas was still in the basement where the buses usually waited to take people to the LCCT. The KL Sentral station, thankfully, had reopened and then it was a short journey back to Kelana Jaya to get into my car and head off to an engagement party.
Click here for Hafidz Baharom’s article on why he joined Bersih 2.0 after years of not supporting illegal assemblies.