Bar Council: Team 7's report on the BERSIH Gathering

Tuesday, 13 November 2007 06:09pm
A team of 5 members commissioned by the Bar Council’s Human Rights Committee and KL Legal Aid Centre was stationed at the intersection between Jalan Tun Perak and Jalan TAR to monitor and document the situation in that area during the gathering.
The designated spot is in effect a crossroad – clockwise, there are 4 roads: Jalan Tun Perak, Jalan Raja (the road leading into Dataran Merdeka), Jalan Parlimen and Jalan TAR which meet at the same intersection.
1:30pm: The team arrived at the designated area to find that there was already heavy police presence lining the entrance of Dataran Merdeka (next to the Sultan Abdul Samad building). The police was preventing people from entering the area leading into Dataran Merdeka. Groups of people had begun to line Jalan Tun Perak and Jalan Parlimen, but it was difficult to determine who the participants were and who was just observing.
1:45pm: There was a large group of people opposite the police line at the entrance to Dataran Merdeka. A lady displayed a sign which demanded that ‘the EC stop the biasness’. Other soon gathered round and there was a more concerted effort in their chanting, shouting and asking motorists to honk in support.
1:55pm: The police responded to this group by instructing them via a loud hailer to “bersurai”. The crowd, led by some individuals obeyed the police’s instruction and stopped shouting but merely went back to standing around on the sidewalk.
2:00pm: The police had closed Jalan Tun Perak leading to Masjid Jamek. The traffic conditions became worse due to the road diversion.
2:15pm: The crowd lining the roads had swelled to several hundreds. There were instances when shouting could be heard, e.g. a minor incident where a motorist almost collided with an individual standing on the sidewalk. An arrest was made near Dataran Merdeka on Jalan Tun Perak. Police closed Jalan Parlimen and diverted traffic back onto Jalan Tun Perak. There was police presence on Jalan TAR as well.
2:20pm: The rain which initially drizzled turned heavy. The crowd naturally thinned as people sought shelter in the entrances of shops.
2:25pm: A large crowd of an estimated 2000-3000 people had begun to march along Jalan Melayu (parallel to Jalan Tun Perak) and across Jalan TAR into an unidentified backlane. We now know that they were heading to Istana Negara to join the others. This formed a continuous stream of people for at least 10 minutes. They were chanting and shouting “Daulat Tuanku”, “Reformasi” and “Allahhuakhbar”.
2:30pm: Police closed Jalan Tun Perak again and re-opened Jalan Parlimen. We heard reports that the police had used water cannons and tear gas in the Masjid Jamek area. We were also affected by the tear gas as we were downwind.
3:00pm: The crowd had thinned and we followed them to the area behind Coliseum Theatre. They faced a FRU line which moved forward towards the crowd in a line while banging their riot shields with batons. The crowd dispersed back onto Jalan TAR.
3:30pm: A large group remained in our original spot and were shouting and gathering at the crossroads. They were shouting and getting motorists to honk in support. The group had taken over one half of Jalan TAR and PAS’ Unit AMAL stewards had to divert traffic onto other lanes on Jalan TAR. The FRU then moved forward in a formation and in shields-banging fashion. This happened three or four times. Each time the FRU line moved forward, people would immediately pull back and retreat a safe distance before gathering again. Some policemen were also seen running into Jalan Melayu. Later those arrested on Jalan Melayu were brought out and placed in police trucks to be transported to the police station.
4:15pm: Reports were heard that the memorandum had reached the King. The crowd had not yet dispersed. We noticed that traffic on Jalan TAR had been blocked behind us as there were no cars on the road. The FRU line moved forward again and people on the sidewalk retreated as usual. This time however, the FRU brought their trucks onto Jalan TAR and proceeded to chase the people with cannons shooting chemically-laced. Note that the people were retreating. We moved to an open area along Jalan TAR, but were not spared either. Some participants came to our aid, giving us salt to neutralise the bad taste, water to drink and wash our eyes with in addition to toothpaste to sooth the eye area.
4:30pm: We headed back to the Bar Council via STAR LRT, where a feedback meeting was conducted.
In conclusion, the situation in our area remained peaceful at all times as there was practically no open or direct confrontation with the police. Every time the FRU took a step forward, the people took one step backward. There a ‘cat and mouse’ game was being played out as the FRU lines were present on the roads surrounding the people. The ‘game’ ended when the FRU unleashed their water cannons on the people who were retreating away from the lines. Although effective in dispersing the crowd, one might say that such unprovoked reaction from the police was heavy handed and uncalled for at the tail end of the day’s proceedings.
We note also the people’s positive response towards our presence, many publicly thanking us for being present even after we had made it known that we were only observing.