Malaysiakini: Eight hours of the Batu Buruk riot

Bede Hong
Rabu, 2007 September 19

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Sep 18, 07 — Ten days ago, Terengganu experienced its worst case of rioting. It has led to conflicting reports and accusations of provocation being exchanged.
The government has blamed the opposition for instigating the incident, while PAS has accused Umno of working in cahoots with the police.
Malaysiakini reconstructs the incident in this timeline, based on a visit to the state, interviews with eyewitnesses, opposition party members and the police.


  • End August

The Coalition for Free and Fair Election (Bersih) applies for a police permit to hold a ceramah (public talk) adjacent to Pantai Batu Buruk in Kuala Terengganu. PAS is to host the ceramah.

  • Thursday, Sept 6

Police reject the application on grounds that the organisers did not provide solutions for traffic and security issues.

  • Saturday, Sept 8

The organisers build a stage in front of the house of PAS member Ahmad Salleh (right) – it faces a field that can accommodate some 2,000 people, as thousands are expected to attend.
The event is to begin at 9pm.
At 5pm, police begin setting up several roadblocks in the vicinity and order that the stage be dismantled. They also question Bersih members.
At 5.30pm, police dismantle the stage. Residents heading to Masjid Batu Buruk – on Jalan Sultan Mahmud – for asar (evening) prayers were stopped, according to PKR news organ Suara Keadilan.
At 6pm, Terengganu police chief Ayub Yaakob says PAS representatives had failed to turn up at contingent headquarters to negotiate moving the venue to the nearby town of Rusila. In an interview with Malaysiakini later, Ayub says he had waited for two hours.
From 6pm, PAS and PKR members begin to gather at the Jalan Sultan Mahmud roadblock, unsure if the ceramah will be held but expecting last-minute negotiations to be held, according to eyewitnesses and opposition party members interviewed.
By 8pm, the crowd swells along Jalan Sultan Mahmud. Police issue the first warning for them to disperse – despite four more warnings, people continue to gather near the mosque.
At 8.45pm, the final warning is issued together with a threat of arrests. The police move in. The crowd responds by pelting police personnel with stones and small rocks. The police and PAS later blame one another for starting the riot.
At 9.40pm, invited speakers begin arriving at a nearby restaurant, Warong Pak Maidin, at the roadblock near the food court. They are PAS Terengganu commisioner Mustafa Ali, Bersih representative Dr Syed Azman Syed Ahmad Nawawi, PKR treasurer Khalid Ibrahim, DAP representative Leong Ngah Ngah and Teras Pengupayaan Melayu (Teras) representative Azmi Hamid.
Police refuse to let them past the roadblock. A plainclothes officer drew out his firearm when ordering organisers to co-operate, according to Suara Keadilan and eyewitnesses.
However, police later allow the speakers to go to Ahmad’s house. While Mustafa claims that last-minute negotiations were held to allow the ceramah, Ayub says there was no such deal because the gathering was unlawful.
By 10pm, more civilians – some reports put the number between 600 and 2,000 – gather near the mosque. At least 300 FRU personnel are at the scene, while crowd unruliness grows, according to the police.
About 10.30pm, the FRU launch tear gas into the crowd, while water cannon are used to disperse those gathered between an Esso station and the mosque.
The first arrest was made in front of the petrol station. The use of tear gas and water cannon continues well past midnight as rioters continue throwing objects at the police.
At 11.45pm, a general duty police constable allegedly shoots PAS members Suwandi Abdul Ghani (left), 37, and Muhamad Azman Aziz, 21, near Permai Inn Hotel. In all, four shots are fired.
Police later say the constable was acting in self-defence after being surrounded and assaulted by 20 people. An eyewitness claims, though that the constable had fired over his shoulder while running away from rioters.
By 12.30am, at least 13 arrests have been made. The riot has petered out. Police begin withdrawing about 1am, taking an hour to leave the scene.

  • Sunday, Sept 9

By now, 23 arrests have been made, with 17 people being released on police bail during the day.
Since the incident…
* Several news organisations have said that their reporters and photographers had been barred from entering the scene of the riot. There were claims that cameras had been confiscated.
* Ayub has denied that the police took photos of people burning the national flag and supplied these to Bernama news agency; he has further denied that police had taken away cameras from press photographers.
* A directive has gone out to identify those responsible for burning the Malaysian flag. The state government has estimated a loss of more than RM1 million because of damage to vehicles, flower pots, plants, street lights, traffic lights and public signage.

  • Wednesday, Sept 13

The Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) says it will hold a fact-finding mission from Sept 19 to interview those injured and eyewitnesses, to get a clearer picture of what transpired that night.