An inconvenient focus

By Jema Khan
July 11, 2011 | The Malaysian Insider

JULY 11 — The Bersih 2.0 rally on Saturday where tens of thousands of Malaysians demonstrated appeared to be more spontaneous than precision planned. Although we all knew that July 9th was the day for the rally, there was hope that it would be held in a stadium and that any disruptions would be minimised. It appears that even the intercession of the King was not enough for the police to provide a proper venue for Bersih to air their grouses.

The police warned us that they were in effect “locking down” Kuala Lumpur and that anyone suspected of being involved with Bersih would be arrested. As it happened, they arrested a total of more than 1,600 Malaysians.

Tear gas and water cannons were used on the crowd and there are claims that one man lost his life because the police delayed medical attention during the rally. Because of the “lock down”, millions of Malaysians were not able to carry out their usual routine on Saturday.

Many were anxiously seeking news from the media, both alternative and mainstream, as to actually what was going on in the heart of Kuala Lumpur. The world’s media too did not disappoint and news of the demonstration was carried by CNN, the BBC and Al-Jazeera.

The alternative media too were giving updates every few minutes and their coverage made you feel that you were actually there minus the tear gas, water cannons and arrests, of course.

The Malaysian mainstream media also did their propaganda job by interviewing those whose business were adversely affected by the rally. The slant, of course, was to blame Bersih 2.0 for this.

It is strange that the mainstream Malaysian media didn’t blame the police instead. After all, it was the police roadblocks, shutting down and diverting of public transport, random stops and searches that basically “locked down” Kuala Lumpur.

Bersih’s leader Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan claimed the rally was a success as it had focussed many Malaysian minds on the issues that were brought up by the group. She may be right, to some extent, that many support Bersih’s eight demands for reforms but to my mind the issues are far more fundamental.

It is a question of freedom of expression and our rights as enshrined in our Constitution as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1946 to which our nation is a party to.

The government claims that Bersih 2.0 has been hijacked by the Opposition. I agree. But so what? Does that entitle the police to “lock down” our city? Does that allow the police to arrest fellow Malaysians for having a yellow T-shirt or for carrying salt? Does that allow the police to fire tear gas and water cannons at a peaceful crowd walking through the streets of Kuala Lumpur?

The police claim that the demonstration would have been much larger had they not instituted such a draconian shut down. Don’t they realise that all that they did was subvert the fundamental rights of all Malaysians to express their views? All those people who would have come to the rally did not do so because of what the police did. Is that a victory for the police or a defeat for a more free and democratic Malaysia, or perhaps both?

The police have a hierarchical structure where the officers are supposed to follow orders. They are trained like that and to be fair, that applies to all the security forces throughout the world. Nevertheless as with most police forces throughout the world, they see themselves as the “good guys” and a force of good in society. The problem that arises is that when you have peaceful protestors who are also “good people” on the other side.

To some extent even the police recognised this and that is why they prepared food, drink and other facilities for those they arrested during the rally. In some places. they even shook hands with the protestors after the rally.

While the police had their orders, they bore no ill-will towards the protestors and to some extent the protestors also knew they were under orders. If there is blame to be laid on this protest, then it most likely resides with the people who gave the “orders.”

While many of us were in a city under “lock down”, we had pause to consider more deeply the events happening around us. Though it has tested our patience, some good did come out of it. The King had acted with great equanimity to try to calm things down. The Bersih 2.0 protestors were not afraid to express their feelings and did so peacefully. The police while they did act high-handedly tried to redeem themselves by treating most of those arrested reasonably and releasing them quickly. The likes of Perkasa were nowhere to be seen.

While the game continues, I can’t help but think that through all the troubles that we faced on July 9th, we are more united as Malaysians today than whatever was envisaged under Prime Minister Najib Razak’s 1 Malaysia. It would indeed be ironic if the slogan succeeds but the man does not.

  1. #1 by DAP man on Monday, 11 July 2011 - 12:02 pm

    “It appears that even the intercession of the King was not enough …”

    In other words UMNO rejected the King’s advice.

  2. #2 by waterfrontcoolie on Monday, 11 July 2011 - 12:08 pm

    It is certainly out of desperation that the Gomen sought the press release of a Professor of Law [ dari mana???] to comment that the leaders of Bersih could be stripped off their titles. Infact, it was the King who suggested that the rally could take place in a stadium and this was blocked by the police! This so-called professor should not expose her ignorance of basic common sense! With such professors sitting in our UNIBERSITI, no wonder we could enter the top 100 Asian U-league. With everyone having some kind of recording device, it was sheer stupidity for the power that be to lie on the figures of people taking part. The vidoes just proven them darn liars! BN has decided to even cheat themselves saying that the support was only because of ONE PERSON! looking at the crowd, it is certainly a MALAYSIAN REACTION to a bankrupt leadership which came about because
    they have misled the people for such a long time that they themselves began to believe in their fairy-tales!! Ha! ha!

  3. #3 by k1980 on Monday, 11 July 2011 - 12:51 pm

    Just look at what that extremist said in the United Nations less than a year ago— He challenged governments, intellectuals, religious scholars and business leaders across the world to form a ‘global movement of moderates’ and take a stand against Islamist extremism.

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