On the 28th of April 2012, I went to the heart of KL to photograph the Bersih 3.0 Duduk Bantah demonstration!
The demonstration was done with the request for free and fair elections, and they would sit in Dataran Merdeka (Independence Square) from 2pm to 4pm.
I took the bus to KL. However it did not go to KL, and its last stop was Titiwangsa instead (which, ironically, was its old stop.) So, I took the KL Monorail to KL Sentral, which had an interesting development – would they connect the KL Monorail to whatever it was they were building in the former parking lot?
Surprisingly, the monorail was not extra crowded.
Two crows taking shade away from the action. Coincidentally, the Prime Minister and his deputy were not in KL.
Random yellow things in KL Sentral. The person who designed the posters shouldn’t overlay the Bersih logo on the dark windows of the mosque!
I took the LRT to Pasar Seni, also surprisingly not packed with people. There, I met JD.
There, I bumped into A. Samad Said, National Laureate and Bersih co-chairman.
He was sitting there protesting.
Then, we could hear a commotion, and quickly ran across the bridge to find the procession from KL Sentral/Brickfields had reached Pasar Seni!
Pictures and videos simply cannot do this justice – when I saw the swarm of people coming, I was like WHOA. It was like a scene from Lord Of The Rings in IMAX.
If the Election Commission head and his deputy, who were allegedly members of the ruling party, saw this, they would shit in their pants and resign. Which is pretty much what we asked them to do, minus the shit in their pants part.
100% crop of the above picture. People, as far as the eye could see!
I was taking pictures for a good 10 minutes or so, observing the crowd. It never seemed to end! There were just more and more people, continuously coming in!
I knew that I was one of the few people going, and I knew that many people weren’t going because they wouldn’t be bothered to. And yet, to see so many people of all walks of life, was immensely inspiring! To see them get out of their comfort zone and bear the Malaysian heat, and walk for miles when they’d normally circle a parking lot to get a spot as close as possible to a lift, was amazing!
This was just the people who were on time. Some reached Dataran Merdeka the night before!
You can read about how there was a swarm of people and a sea of yellow, but you have no idea how big that is until you see it for yourself, in real life, from an elevated view.
These guys were in the front of the crowd.
There were blind people, people in wheelchairs, and people with crutches. Despite their disability, they decided to come out on this hot day and show the government that they wanted free and fair elections!
When you are down on the street with the people, you don’t get a sense of scale.
The atmosphere was jovial! The bus honked, and we waved back at them. Passengers on the bus gestured with their thumbs up.
Business for small traders was great! Who said that demonstrations was bad for business?
We passed the side road of Central Market, where this Indonesian fast-food chain was still open. Business was roaring!
Surprise, this area was overrun by Malaysians! On any regular weekend, this place would be overrun by foreign workers.
More entrepreneuring spirits.
We went up the pedestrian bridge to cross to Petaling Street.
View on the other side.
This is a screen capture from a video I recorded. Cool jerseys!
The Unit Amal PAS volunteers helped to coordinate traffic, stopping the crowd to let an ambulance pass.
I then went down to the Bar Council area, where the Occupy Dataran movement was, since they were evicted from Dataran Merdeka.
The police obtained a court order, banning anybody from being in Dataran Merdeka.
Bumped into Davina there!
There were a lot of Chinese people in the crowd!
The Chinese have, traditionally, been known to mind their own business when it comes to matters of the country – usually the Malays would be gungho about these things, but not today. Today, all races came down. Malays, Chinese, Indians and even my Portugese-Chinese cousin. He is not in this picture, though.
This guy was recycling to save the environment. Well done!
He calls himself the Bersih Man. I prefer Bersih Ranger.
Malaysians showed their love for our beloved Prime Minister.
I had no idea we had such cool-looking safety cars.
Across the bridge that crosses the Klang River, which defines this as the very center of Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian Federal Reserve Unit (FRU), a.k.a. the Riot Police, were gathered.
There, we could see their trademark ice-cream bell. There was also a FRU officer recording with a video camera.
My late grandfather was a FRU Battalion Commander, among many things.
We then headed nearer to Jalan Tun Perak, where the action was supposed to be at. On the way there was Reggae Mansion, infamous for not letting Malaysians, Asians and Arabians in.
At the MSC Malaysia Cybercentre, ironically not in Cyberjaya.
The Himpunan Hijau group was here, too, protesting against the Lynas Rare Earth Plant.
Also, a labour day protest!
I was quite confused as to where the crowd was going – they seemed to be going in the opposite direction of Dataran Merdeka! As it turns out, Dato’ Ambiga Sreenevasan had declared the rally a success and told everyone to go home.
Since I turned off data on my phone, I didn’t know she said that, and I thought we were going to continue to head to Dataran Merdeka, getting as close as we legally could, and sit down from 2 to 4pm, as was the original plan.
People were mostly sitting down at this point.
Here you could hear chants. Some were “Bersih Bersih!” but some chanted “Reformasi! Tumbang BN!” Technically, Reformasi is legit, as it wants to reform the government, but Tumbang BN (topple Barisan Nasional, the current government) would be out of topic.
Some people complain that Bersih 3.0 was hijacked by the opposition party, and so they would not go. Personally, I don’t care, as I knew what my purpose of going was, and I knew that anyone who already had decided who they would vote for, would not be easily swayed by hearing a speech!
It was here that I started hearing warnings of tear gas. So we started moving away from the area.
We ran to the hills. I covered my nose with an old shirt, folded so I would breathe through 3 layers.
Up in St. John’s Catedral, we bumped into Aunty Annie, nicknamed the Malaysian Lady Of Liberty, because she went to Bersih 2.0 all by herself and was in a picture showing her after being drenched by water cannons. Wherever she went, people came up to her. She was an Internet celebrity, and more importantly, an inspiration! There were a lot of old people in the crowd, and I’m sure her picture encouraged them to go.
At this point I could only vaguely smell the tear gas. It smelt like some bad factory smoke, and seemed pepper-ish, quite like Lay’s Salt & Vinegar potato chips.
Lay’s Salt & Vinegar are my favorite potato chips, so I had no problem with that. 🙂
Malay Muslims, in the compound of St. John’s Catedral.
A Malay Muslim cooling himself off with tap water from the church.
A group of Malay Muslims sitting in front of Ebenezer Bookland, a Christian bookshop.
This is the real Malaysia – Muslims who are not afraid of other religions, not afraid that sitting in front of a Christian bookshop or being in the compound of a church would sway their beliefs and convert them!
Some politicians claim that there is a secret agenda amongst Christians, who form a 10% minority of Malaysia, to try to convert Muslims (which is illegal in Malaysia.) Various methods include solar-powered Bibles and charity dinners!
We walked down the hill to get back and get some real pictures, having not taken any action. There, I saw two men on a motorbike, preparing to record video.
I could understand why Mohamad Azri Salleh, a cameraman for local channel Al Hijrah, ran to the scene with his helmet on – he probably got off his bike and ran to save the policeman! More on that later.
We ended up near Kotaraya, where a kid was crying on her mother.
The McDonald’s was closed. A man behind me shouted at the workers inside, “buka lah apasal tutup? Siapa kata masa demo takde bisnes? Ini bodoh, hanya budak ajaran sekolah UMNO akan berfikiran begitu!” Translated, “why aren’t you open? Who says there is no business during a demonstration? This is stupid, only students of the UMNO school of thought would think so!”
UMNO is of course the leader of a coalition of parties, called Barisan Nasional, the only ruling party Malaysia has ever experienced.
We entered Petaling Street, which was still very much alive.
Everybody was buying cold drinks.
I heard a guy dressed in a ninja suit went around saving protesters. I wonder if it was the same guy.
Amidst the tear gas in the background, it was good business for the restaurants on the outskirts of the action.
Well, these guys really wear yellow all the time. It is their uniform.
The significance of yellow in this demonstration, was that yellow was the royal color of the King, and that we want the King to ensure free and fair elections, since he has the power to appoint the Election Commission, on the advice of the Conference of Rulers.
We then headed to Jalan Tun Perak, leading to Dataran Merdeka, where the action was!
I bumped into KJ, who stood on his foldable bike and took this picture for me. The red lorry had two water cannons on each side.
And so, the tear gas was fired, and people started running away.
This was taken from a side road which I had escaped to.
I had not really experienced tear gas as what others described – at most, I only felt a leaky nose and an incontrollable, mildly stinging feeling in my eyes that made me cry loads. I just needed to open my eyes for a bit to find a pole to rest on, and within 5 seconds of closing my eyes the effect was over.
I carried salt, which was supposed to be put under the tongue, but I found it to have no effect, probably because I wasn’t really exposed. You can only feel the effects of tear gas if you inhale it.
I also passed the salt around, shouting “Garam! Garam! Garam!” which some people took. Most people who were already sitting and recovering were prepared – they had their own salt.
A photographer seemed to have sprained a leg. I gave him my bottle of water. (Also, I forgot my external flash, hence the shadow from my Sigma 12-24mm F4.5-5.6 EX DG on my Sony Alpha 77’s pop-up flash.)
Once you learned how to breathe through a thick towel or layers of cloth, you would have no fear of tear gas. After a round of tear gas and water cannons, the protesters would rush back in again and again! It was quite amusing to watch.
It was quite like a Boss Level – you die the first time because he attacks you strongly, then you learn that you need to hide behind a pillar when he’s shooting rockets, and then you attack him while he’s reloading.
Water cannons. People really feared this, running madly. I didn’t experience water cannons, so I don’t know if it was much worse than tear gas. The way they ran, it was like school, when you ran from the police and didn’t want to be caught. There would be no real consequence or harm, but you ran anyway!
I bumped into Reta, who came extra prepared! She had antacids on her face and a mask (though I doubt that would work.)
We ran through a little alley, past the old Chinese market.
It was not until we heard people shouting, “polis tangkap! Tangkap! Lari!” that we really decided to stop trying to get closer to the action.
It was probably the same for the others – tear gas and water cannons are nothing, compared to the inconvenience of a temporary arrest. We knew from Bersih 2.0 that you’d be arrested for no more than a day and treated to a nice buffet (since this was a PR exercise for the police, as well.) Before you get arrested, you’d get the customary police brutality, which would also be painful.
We walked past this road, where some very, very lost tourists were walking towards the riot police.
We walked past another lane, which I was about to turn into… then I saw a laughably small group of riot police. I then realized why this was a very wrong road to walk into – they had tear gas launchers!
As we walked past another road with riot police, a guy to my left shouted at them, calling them dogs. One riot policeman shouted back at him, and this continued for a bit until we could not see the riot police.
Are you going to be asleep, or are you going to protest for your country, to demand free and fair elections?
We walked up a hill, passed Stadium Negara, and opposite it, a school with a very yellow banner.
We ended up passing Hang Tuah station, then having dinner at Times Square.
We took the KL Monorail to KL Sentral, and JD and I parted ways. Here I took a picture of a random bunch, who, like me, had not gotten over the euphoria of the day.
I took the LRT to Masjid Jamek, but the train would not stop at Masjid Jamek! The background you see that is blurry, is in fact the trapped people in Masjid Jamek who were unable to board any trains!
I got off at Dang Wangi and decided to go back to Masjid Jamek, this time using flash. More trapped people who could not go home!
Finally, at 7pm, the doors opened, and we could get out. Here was the place that was home to a lot of chemical water and gas. Police were walking back to Dataran Merdeka after a long day of chasing people and randomly arresting them (nevermind that they may not have actually defied the court order by entering Dataran Merdeka!)
Interestingly, the crowd broke through the razor wire and entered the Dataran Merdeka, with the cops behind, not even bothering to stop them. It was, of course, a trap, that would allow them to violate the law and get arrested.
Let’s ignore the fact that the court order would in fact be illegal since the Peaceful Assembly Act 2011 only allows the Police to ask that the assembly be done somewhere else instead of denying the venue without suggesting an alternative area. Then again, I am not a lawyer, so take what I say with a pinch of salt.
Rubbish was strewn all over. Some say this was against the literal translation of Bersih, which is clean. However in their defense, the protesters had to run because water cannons were being sprayed!
I took the STAR LRT to PWTC. On the way, I took an overhead shot with flash. Quite cool to see all the policemen’s reflective jackets light up! They were still lingering around the Dataran Merdeka area.
Earlier, the police had used Dataran Merdeka as a ‘detention square‘. How ironic!
There was also the police car incident – videos from different angles can be seen here:
Accident involving police car and supporters
What I understand of it was, that a police car was driving nearby Sogo, when it honked and protesters started throwing stones and police cones at it, breaking the windshield and injuring the driver, causing him to swerve the car into the crowd, injuring at least 2 protesters. An angry mob then started attacking the car, jumping on it, and a helmeted cameraman, Mohamad Azri Salleh, ran to the scene, trying to save the policeman and fend off the mob. However, he was pulled aside and attacked. PKR’s Jingga 13 group defended the police car and brought the policeman to an ambulance. Somebody then shouted that there was somebody trapped under the car, so they overturned the car. Strangely though, none of the videos show the person underneath, but they initially tried to push the car back, so the person could be at the front of the car and pulled out. That is not clear. They also cheered, probably because they were relieved that there was nobody under the car! One woman shouted to get away from the car in case it exploded, so the crowd ran away.
If not for the car accident, I would have said that the rally was a success. It does shake me a little to know of the risks of being in a street demonstration are. However, I knew the risks involved, that anything could happen, that I could’ve been unlawfully arrested or injured, and I was mentally prepared for that.
With all the tear gas, water cannons, police violence, lawful and unlawful arrests, it makes you wonder – what kind of government puts patriots against patriots? We have the patriotic Malaysians who want to rally for free and fair elections, and patriotic Malaysians on duty who want to protect the citizens (but in this case, they have been ordered to protect a patch of grass.) All this could have been avoided if the police had allowed them to gather and sit down on the big field of grass known as Dataran Merdeka. There would have been no casualties, civilian or police, and no damage to public property.
Anyway, if you have decided you want to do more for Malaysia, be a Polling/Counting Agent!
Sign up for the training here. It is open to all citizens of Malaysia – you don’t need to be a member of any political party or the Election Commission, to participate in making sure the elections are free and fair! I’ve gone for the course myself, and learned so much about the electoral system.
I took some pictures from the first Bersih Rally, here:
Vote For Cleanliness!