I Was There

My eye-witness account of July 9th, 2011 in Kuala Lumpur — the day Malaysians proved that peace-makers will always triumph over war-mongers.

I was there, and no matter what the Malaysian government says — from their ownership of a vast majority of the mainstream media, down to the insensitive and/or untrue (mostly both) statements made by ministers or the Polis Di Raja Malaysia (Royal Malaysian Police or PDRM) — no matter how much they want to deny what happened in Kuala Lumpur (KL) on Saturday, July 9th, 2011, they cannot deny my words.

I was there.

I was there from the first Light Rail Transit (LRT) train in the morning at 6am, travelling and watching the clear roads, where there was hardly any traffic due to aggressive road closures enforced by the PDRM. At the last station, I got down to have breakfast, and bought a copy of the New Straits Times, The Star and Utusan Malaysia.

I was there.

I was there fuming, and trying hard to control my anger, at the blatantly one-sided depiction of the scope of events leading to July 9th. At how Bersih, a coalition of NGOs who wished to send a list of suggestions for freer and fairer elections to the supreme head of the country, was demonised by the mainstream government.

I was there.

I was there on the train again at 8.30am heading back home, planning to leave again for the hotspots around noon. On the train, I met up with the LRT security guards whom I have known over the past 13 years from riding the LRT almost everyday. They were dressed in their Polis Bantuan (“Auxiliary Police”) uniforms. I chatted with them, and held my tongue when I discovered to my shock that they were sincerely against the gathering, and that the police were merely keeping the peace instead of threatening a peaceful group with arrests and implicit manhandling. I wished them well as they got off at their designated stations, and continued the journey home.

I was there.

I was there back at Wangsa Maju in record time as the trains ran at better-than-peak-hour efficiency. I promptly went to the cybercafé to read what the independent Internet media had to stay, as well as follow the progress on Twitter. At around 11.20, I walked back home, bathed again and went back out on the LRT. I headed out back to KL, and saw the huge gathering of people outside the old train station. Alighting at KL Sentral, I purchased a small bottle of water, which proved to be very useful later on. Stopping for lunch at the YMCA — all the while observing a small but very steady stream of people walking towards Jalan Petaling — I made my way towards the same venue at 1pm.

I was there.

I was there when a virtually-unbroken line of people a kilometre long made its slow but steady way towards Stadium Merdeka. Despite a small but very vocal number of active agitators, the line was quiet and dignified, with occasional bouts of cheers. I walked from Brickfields towards the train station, then the main post office and crossing over to the Pasar Seni LRT station, which had already been shut down.

I was there.

I was there amongst the crowd that moved from Petaling Street towards Jalan Pudu, bumping into my friends from work. I was not there as a worker though, even though I would have been within my rights to be there as the journalist that I am. Lack of support from my editor-in-chief was the reason why I was not there as a reporter on the scene. But I was there, as a citizen of Malaysia, which was the only justification I needed.

I was there.

I was there when Malaysians of all colours and ages walked peacefully towards the Puduraya Bus Station, and I was there as we all revelled in the fact that there were definitely more than 20,000 people standing all around — on the roads, in and around the bus station and Menara Maybank itself. I was there at 1.50pm when I met James Pollard, a British tourist from Bristol who was wondering what was going on. And as I gave him a continuous explanation, the Federal Reserve Unit (FRU) brought out water-cannons (laced with chemical irritants and not just harmless water) as well as the CS tear gas rifles, shooting both at the crowd. A small police force started running and catching people, kicking and beating some of those they caught in broad daylight.

Photo by James Pollard

I was there.

I was there as the crowd managed to push back the FRU for a moment before making its ways down Jalan Pudu to inch towards the stadium. James and I moved towards the bus station and rose up the ramp to get an elevated view. That was when the FRU decided to fire the tear gas above at the unarmed and non-participating spectators — in short, the innocent bystanders.

I was there.

I was there when I got hit by tear gas for the first time in my life. It was excruciating in a manner beyond mere words; the skin and the eyes burn and sear, as does the nose and throat, producing coughing that only serves to make the victim inhale even more irritants. I was racked in pain, unable to do anything but struggle to breathe and vomit. A concerned citizen tried to give me some salt to counter the effects, but I was too much in pain and discomfort to want it even though I knew it would help. It took a while, but the effects wore off, leaving me weak and feeling wretched.

I was there.

I was there when all my fellow Malaysians showed concern for one another, helping each other, not a single of whom were shouting or behaving in a manner befitting of hooligans. So unlike the police, strutting arrogantly with their weapons and numbers which were puny compared to the crowd, shouting insults and belittling the very people they had supposedly been sworn to protect and serve.

I was there.

I was there when they confronted the people who sat on the road, with nary a weapon of any sort in their hands. They only used their voices, and even then it was merely a wall of cheers and vocalisations. I saw it all from the overhead pedestrian bridge of the bus station when they fired tear gas again into the seated crowd. Another British friend I had made, Sam Franklin, got footage of the whole scene. Of course, being at the scene meant that in the rush to escape the gas, I got stuck, and got another stronger blast of the CS gas. It was even worse the second time around, due to the higher concentration. But again, I survived.

I was there.

I was there down on the street with James and Sam when there was a final ceasefire, and the MP for Subang R Sivarasa was negotiating with the police. And we then moved off to get a drink and recuperate — and therefore missed the Tung Shin hospital incident, which was reported brilliantly by my work colleague and friend, Max Koh. I have never been prouder of a friend than I am of Max for his concise, excellent account of what happened. This article is not meant to compete with his account — but I am the first to admit that it can never compete with its brilliance.

I was there.

I was there with my new-found friends who later took me back to their hostel to recover — with James; Sam; Kaya from Taiwan; Mike O’Connor from New Zealand; Tay Franssens from Holland; and Ben Quigley from the USA — and I sat down with them as they watched Sam’s videos, and answered their questions as best as I could. And I told them not to just take my word for it, but to ask around. They did — and all agreed that even the contrary points of view (of which there were many, either from the police forces or from ordinary Malaysians, who for some reason did not understand nor support the Bersih movement) reinforced what I had told them. And reinforced what they had seen.

I wasn’t there for some things.

I wasn’t there when the deputy inspector-general of police denied that the Tung Shin Hospital compound was both attacked with tear gas and sprayed on with the chemical water, despite photos and videos to the contrary already up online. And I certainly wasn’t there when the Prime Minister of Malaysia Mohd Najib Abdul Razak made fun of people who were weaklings for their reaction to “a little tear gas”. Most definitely, I wasn’t there — because if I was, I would have spit at him.

But I was there.

I was there that day, on the ground where brute force was used to subdue peaceful citizens who had every right to be in the capital city. Mohd Najib, where were you? You and your wife were out being wined and dined the whole day in luxurious comfort, as you always have been. And you have the audacity to speak about and belittle things that you obviously do not know about.

Well, I was there.

I was there, and I survived. You who call yourself a pemimpin (“leader”, literally “one who guides”) are not fit to pimpin me or any one of us anymore. And so I say that I am determined to continue fighting the good fight for freedom, truth, fairness and equality — even if it kills me. As the great Mahatma Gandhi once said: “They may torture my body, break my bones, even kill me, then they will have my dead body. NOT MY OBEDIENCE!” — and the same goes for me. As the old and beautiful song Tanah Pusaka goes: “Biar putih tulang, jangan putih mata.” (Literally “Better to show that your bones are white, better not that show that your eyes are white”, ie “Tis better to be dead than to be willingly blind”) You can take away almost anything from me — but you can never take away my dignity.

I was there.

And I am still here.

Ahmad Azrai grew strong and learned how to carry on.

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Ahmad Azrai grew strong and learned how to carry on.

Posted on 12 July 2011. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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8 Responses to I Was There

  1. squeky clean

    Thank you for this article . It has lifted my spirits . Clean Malaysia for one and all.There is an easy way for evil to triumph when the good people do nothing, you have done something and so have all who came for the bersih walk, kudos .

  2. rajeshgana

    Very inspiring passionate account. With people like you this beloved country will definitely redeem its lost glory in near future. I fervently hope and pray majority youth of all ethinicity and all walks of life will stand solidly behind noble minded individuals like you and the remarkable spearheads of bersih towards reclaiming respect to the nation.
    may god bless all of us

  3. complete_nutrition

    Ahmad Azrai, you are modest. Your mastery of English is pretty Good.
    Give yourself a pat for you bravery in your participation at the walk.


    Wise words and THANK YOU for sharing. Malaysia need more brave and conscientious young men & women to speak up and make a stand to rid the 'ROT' of Racism (BTN Course,Interlok book, Civil Service 98% filled by one race only etc ) and to rid Corruption & Injustice in Malaysia.
    9 July was historic when so many of all races came out to march for a NEW MALAYSIA !
    Hidup Bersih ! Hidup Rakyat !

  5. charlie chan

    ahmad- you were there. thank you. so were millions of illegals in our nation n roaming on the streets, did u ponder how millions can walked in to malaysia so easily. this is a BERSIH NATION, now as reported in the star , AMNESTY is being considered for the illegals, what a generous nation- BERSIH< CEKAP & AMANah

  6. Renisa

    Well done Ahmad Azrai ! You have given a a clear and true picture of what happened to those of us who were Not there. You have a God given talent to write so please keep writing !

  7. Yeen

    Well said. I love this article and for once, though I was not there, I am proud of my fellow Malaysian – yeen, kuantan

  8. Anonymous

    As we have all predicted that we must all be beware that Kotor UMNO BN will use all the dirtiest means to stop Bersih to Rally Protest in Stadiums/Elsewhere using all the dirtiest of their dirty tactics that they used with impunity for more than 50 years of their rule. And now Kotor UMNO BN dared to claim and Krismuddin dared to threaten all the media arbiterilly that there was no Police Brutality against the Rakyats when they fired tear gas canisters with intention to cause hurt and fired them indoors and in the underpass at Sentral.

    Kotor is the right word to describe UMNO BN from the more than 50 years of track records of oppressions of the Rakyats by using the Police Force as their tools of violence and blatant mismanagement of Malaysia with rampant corruptions and cheating and plundering the coffers of the Federal Government. Kotor is the word aptly describe UMNO BN and the underhand dirty tactics they use to suppress the press and misinform the general public of Malaysia. Malaysians of all races must get rid of this Kotor evil regime with the thorough cleansing by Bersih which is the spirits of all the Rakyats for the wellbeing of all the future generations of all Malaysians in the next GE..