Bar Council: Monitoring Reports by Teams 1, 3, 5 and 6 on the BERSIH Gathering

Tuesday, 20 November 2007 06:30pm
I. Team 1’s report
Peter Battle, Sunil Lopez and Roland Kual formed Team 1 and were stationed at SOGO Complex. This is their report.
1.40pm: Arrived at Bandaraya LRT to the meeting point at SOGO Complex, and greeted by two police officers at the station. At SOGO, the BERSIH rally participants, consisting of people mostly in yellow t-shirts gathered in the front foyer of SOGO complex behind a human barricade of men in maroon t-shirts (a.k.a Unit Amal), who were facing a platoon of police officers. We later learnt that Unit Amal was the security personnel that had been tasked by BERSIH with both protecting and controlling the rest of the BERSIH rally participants
2.00pm: The crowd from Sogo of about 300-400 people marched towards Dataran Merdeka en route to Istana Negara. They eventually merged with a crowd from Jalan Raja Laut and Tuanku Abdul Rahman. We would put the number at about about 2000-3000. The procession from SOGO complex eventually came to a halt at the corner of Jalan TAR and Jalan Tun Perak. As it had begun to rain quite heavily by now, we decided to cheat mother nature and the authorities by getting on the train to Masjid Jamek.
3.00pm: We boarded the LRT to Masjid Jamek. Whilst on board, we saw a number of BERSIH participants heading towards Dataran Merdeka which was blocked by police barricades. Some of the BERSIH crowd from SOGO complex eventually made their way to Jalan Tun Perak and Masjid Jamek to join the rest of the Bersih participants who were already gathered there.
When we arrived at Masjid Jamek, the station was locked down but we managed to convince the station guard to open the gate. On Jalan Tun Perak, we saw a large contingent of FRU officers and the water cannons. The crowd at Masjid Jamek was vocal as they were being blocked by the FRU, and their attempts to move were met with volleys of water and tear gas canisters from the FRU. The crowd, although loud in their dissent against the police orders to disperse, did at no point, as far as we could see, resort to violence.
We believe that the water being sprayed by the FRU was laced with chemicals as white foam could be seen on those at the receiving end of the cannon shots. We encountered one old Malay gentleman, who showed us his injured arm, which according to him was as a result of getting hit by a tear gas canister.
3.20pm We followed the crowd and moved peacefully towards Istana Negara. We were given free passage by the police despite police presence at every road junction.
3.50pm: We arrived on the road leading to Istana Negara. Again, a large contingent of FRU officers was on standby and holding their ground. A larger crowd in yellow was also gathered sitting on the ground. After several speeches, the representatives of BERSIH were allowed to pass through the FRU’s barricades and deliver the memorandum.
4.15pm: We dispersed and returned to the Bar Council for a short briefing.
II. Team 3’s report
Fahri Azzat, Ngooi Chiu-Ing, Lionel Koe, Fadiah Nadwa Fikri and Puspawati Bt Rosman formed Team 3 and were stationed at Central Market. This is their report.
From about 1:30 pm, there was a small number of police gathered in the car park of Central Market.
At about 2:30 pm, the crowd gathered between Central Market and its Annexe. There were shouts of “Daulat Tuanku”.
At about 2:45 pm, the crowd started moving towards Dataran Merdeka. There were about 20 FRU personnel who unsuccessfully attempted to block their way. Five of the personnel were bearing rifles and sub-machine guns. The atmosphere was tense. The FRU continued to try and contain the crowd, and boxed them in front of the bus-stop at the Bank Pertanian Malaysia building.
Puspawati, Fadiah, Lionel and Ngooi remained in front of the Bar Council Building, where it was uneventful, although remnants of tear gas wafted from Jalan Tun Perak. They were joined by Yeo Yang Poh, and walked first to Masjid Negara and then proceeded to Istana Negara.
III. Team 5’s report
Roger Chan Weng Keng, Sonia Anirudhan and Audrey Quah formed Team 5 and were to be stationed at St. Mary’s Church at Dataran Merdeka. However, access to the Church was closed and they moved to Masjid Jamek. This is their report.
We could sense the desire of the organisers to ensure that the participants were to be well-behaved, peaceful and organised. That desire was expressed in the role of the ‘Unit Amal’ or marshals who were already taking up formations from about 1.45pm to ensure a trouble-free march, and that traffic flow if ever interrupted, was kept to a minimal.
On the other hand, strong police presence at the area served to counter that peaceful desire as there was no reason for an intimidating presence when the crowd was peaceful.
Action then started at about 2.30pm. We would describe it in ‘3 waves’ of people.
The first human wave involved a stand-off, as the police refused way to the participants. Though we could hear incessant chanting of slogans, this in our view did not constitute public disorder. The police then discharged the water cannons.
The second wave came from a slip road, adjacent to the OCBC bank. The water cannons were then turned at that direction. Tear gas was fired, and people started to scamper, and were smarting from irritation in their eyes and on their skins.
The third human wave was the largest. A ‘tidal-wave’ of participants came out in large numbers from Masjid Jamek. We could see that the police were now outnumbered, leaving them to deal with the rest of the crowd in a ‘cat-and-mouse’ game.
Our reading of these scenarios is that had the police not resorted to the use of force, the participants would have moved on peacefully. There was no indication that the crowd was out to create trouble.
We also question why uniformed and plainclothes police officers were stationed at nooks and corners of buildings, and did nothing to control the crowd or traffic. They were merely on-lookers.
As the water and gas kept coming, we were driven back and had to take a clock-wise walk towards Istana Negara through Wisma Hamzah-Kwong Hing, Bar Council and Central Market.
Roger had the occasion to chat up with some people on the way. A person who was suffering from the effects of the tear gas asked Roger why the police were reacting in such manner. Roger told him that the police were not reacting but over-reacting. Another person asked Roger whether the Constitution or section 27 of the Police Act was supreme. Roger answered that we cannot have the latter without the former.
We finally reached the focal point of the assembly at Istana Negara. From our vantage point, we estimated a crowd of easily more than 20,000 people. We managed to move to a spot close enough to the leaders as they were making their speeches. We noticed that each time a leader spoke, a helicopter would hover above, drowning out their voices.
The riot squad was already in formation, and waiting for their instructions, perhaps to strike, and to fire their water cannons. The ‘Unit Amal’ marshals were on hand to form a long human chain. We disagree if it is said that the police exercised restraint per se. The situation merely called for the exercise of common sense. Had the police acted the same way they did at Masjid Jamek, we venture to suggest that there would have been a horrendous stampede with casualties, or even fatalities.
We are proud to be part of the monitoring team for a good cause.
IV. Team 6’s report
Amer Hamzah Arshad, Dipendra Harshad Rai, Dara Waheda Bt Rufin and M. Moganambal formed Team 6 and were to be stationed at the Dataran Merdeka flagpole. However, access there was blocked and they moved to the junction of Jalan Sultan Hishamuddin and Leboh Pasar Besar. This is their report.
1.30pm: The team gathered in front of the Bar Council building. There were people mulling around the area. Special Branch officers (SBs) were also spotted around the vicinity.
1.50pm: The team walked towards Dataran Merdeka and stopped at the junction of Jalan Sultan Hishamuddin and Leboh Pasar Besar to observe. Some members of the public were walking about. Journalists and photographers were seen taking notes and photographs. The roads leading to Dataran Merdeka were already cordoned off.
There was a heavy presence of uniformed police armed with rifles. More than 7 FRU trucks were stationed in front of the Bangunan Sultan Abdul Samad building. A helicopter was hovering above doing its surveillance. Many SBs in plainclothes were visible.
Groups of police teams were stationed at every corner of entry points to Dataran Merdeka. The Straits Building was inaccessible to the public. Two team members (Amer and Dipendra) proceeded to monitor the situation at Jalan Tun Perak. Upon arrival at the junction of Jalan Tun Perak and Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, we witnessed a woman in yellow t-shirt being arrested by several policewomen. We proceeded to walk along Jalan Tun Perak towards the Masjid Jamek station. There were approximately 3000-4000 participants at the Masjid Jamek area. Chants of “Allahuakbar!”, “Daulat Tuanku! Daulat Tuanku!” could be heard.
2.15pm: The FRU team which was stationed at Jalan Tun Perak/Masjid Jamek intersection used water cannons and tear gas to disperse the crowd marching along Jalan Tun Perak. There was a stand-off between the police/FRU and the crowd in front of OCBC Bank on Jalan Tun Perak.
One of the SBs at Jalan Tun Perak threatened to confiscate the Dipendra’s camera. Amer told the officer to focus on his job rather than interfering with the team’s observation duties.
2.25pm: Both Dara and Mogan then walked towards Jalan Tun Perak. FRU trucks positioned to face Jalan Tun Perak were seen. More police units were on foot. At the junction of Jalan Tun Perak, the police were preventing the assembly from moving forward. Shots were heard and smoke was seen a few seconds later at the Masjid Jamek area. Tear gas had been shot at the crowd. The crowd started to run for cover in all directions.
2.35pm: The team re-grouped at the junction of Jalan Tun Perak and Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman. We then moved towards Jalan Raja Laut as the people there were ready to move forward. The FRU trucks and the FRU units on foot assembled in combat formation, wearing their gas masks and headed to the front. Meanwhile, we heard the people chant “Daulat Tuanku! Daulat Tuanku! Hidup Rakyat!”
The FRU units were given orders to release tear gas. We heard many shots and saw the tear gas canisters being lobbed into the crowd. The crowd retreated to escape. We then saw that the police too had retreated because someone had thrown back a tear gas canister at them. The team suffered the sting of the tear gas. We had to retreat due to this.
2.45pm: More that 10 persons were seen arrested by police. The people regrouped and started to move forward. Water cannons were used this time driving the people further back. This went on for quite a while at intervals.
3.15pm The crowd started to move through the back lanes and made their way past the police at Jalan Raja Laut. They continued towards Istana Negara. The police did not stop them at this spot although further down near the SOGO area, the FRU were continuing to use their water cannons on the crowd.
3.35pm: The team decided to join the crowd and walk to Istana Negara. We reached the road leading to Istana Negara and already there were thousands gathered. Traffic was at a standstill since the roads were blocked. As the crowd was making its way towards Istana Negara, several helicopters hovered in the sky.
The people were calm and peaceful though they were drenched due to the rain. After the BERSIH delegation made their speeches and submitted the memorandum, the people started to disperse in an orderly fashion.
The security unit of BERSIH (i.e. ‘Unit Amal’) helped the police disperse the crowd. The unit was also seen picking up the trash and cleaning the area after the crowd had left.
Concluding Remarks
Apart from the aforesaid incidents at Jalan Tun Perak/Masjid Jamek and Jalan Raja Laut/DBKL, the rally went on smoothly and peacefully. The use of water cannons and tear gas at these places was unnecessary as there were no acts of provocation apart from the chanting of slogans. Instead of confronting the crowd, the police should have provided protection to the participants by forming a long line leading to Istana Negara. By doing so, the police could have protected and controlled the participants with minimum interruption to the other users of the road.
After the submission of the memorandum, the crowd dispersed peacefully. One had to be there personally to witness how well-organised and disciplined the participants were. The organisers’ security personnel co-operated with the instructions of the police to disperse after the submission of the memorandum. This is evidence that the Malaysian public is sufficiently matured to have a peaceful assembly without any untoward incidents.
The team further notes that the public was appreciative of the monitoring role played by the lawyers. The public thanked the lawyers and even clapped their hands when they saw the lawyers. This once again proves that the public acknowledges the role of the Malaysian Bar in the nation-building project of this country.