Friday, May 4, 2012

Violence against Malaysia


Zan Azlee is a documentary filmmaker, journalist, writer, New Media practitioner and lecturer. He runs Fat Bidin Media

May 04, 2012
MAY 4 — I waited for almost a week before actually writing or posting anything much about the recent Bersih 3.0 rally in Kuala Lumpur. There were so many emotions, I wanted to make sure that I was calm and coherent before actually commenting on it.
And now that everything seems ever so slightly clearer to me, the one thing that affected me most that Saturday was the violence that occurred.
The day had started early for me and walking all around the city, I felt the almost party-like atmosphere amongst all the Malaysians that had gathered.
Dataran Merdeka, of course, had a heavy police presence. It was cordoned off with metal fencing and even scary-looking barbed wire.
But, as I mentioned, the atmosphere was very festive and I guess the intimidation wasn’t working that well.
When the rally was in full force, I was standing alongside the leaders as they were giving their speeches and encouraging the people to sing.
Once everyone was as close to Dataran Merdeka as possible, I heard the leaders declaring the rally a success and calling for the crowd to disperse.
The crowd didn’t disperse and I made my way behind the barricade and police line with the help of my press tag.
Before I knew it, I heard people shouting and noticed the police running back from the barricade. The protesters had breached the barricade.
The police, of course, went into full riot mode with their helmets and gas masks on, carrying their shields. Tear gas was fired and the water cannons came out.
Here we go, I thought to myself. This wasn’t the first rally I had covered and I knew the drill and for the next hour or so, things weren’t really out of the ordinary.
People were screaming and taunting the police, challenging the authorities, just like at any demonstration and the police went out trying to disperse the large crowd.
From my observations, the police managed to actually successfully keep the crowd away from the Dataran Merdeka area.
But what happened next was something that I had never seen or experienced before. It was when the violence started.
Groups of policemen suddenly started attacking the protesters. They would gang up on individuals and just unleash punches and kicks.
I, along with many other journalists who were there, started shooting these attacks and arrests. Usually, on previous occasions like this, what would happen is that the police would realise the press was there watching and they would stop any aggression.
This happened at Bersih 2.0 in 2011 and there were times when I would run up to where police were roughing up people just so they would stop.
But last Saturday was different. When we journalists started documenting what was happening, we instead ended up on the receiving end of the aggression.
The police started screaming at us in a very hostile way to stop shooting. I had police shoving my camera arms, pulling and pushing me away.
At one point, I was even detained by the police who had accused me of shooting a group of them (around 20, I think) beating up a protester.
I didn’t want my equipment to be confiscated or to be arrested, so I denied shooting any video of the pounding. They let me off the hook with a stern warning.
I was lucky. Many of my other colleagues were assaulted and attacked just for doing their jobs. They were punched and kicked and suffered terrible injuries.
Their equipment was confiscated and many even had their cameras and lenses smashed and destroyed.
I also noticed something very strange. At one point, I saw that all the policemen who were in uniform had removed their Velcro nametags.
They were also moving in droves away from Dataran Merdeka and into the streets and they were just attacking, beating and arresting people.
Since I was witnessing all this and could not shoot anything, I started feeling sick to the stomach and decided to just walk to where I had parked my car and go home.
While I was walking along the sidewalk, I could see these policemen on the streets still going after people and beating them and arresting them.
And as I was walking, I even saw several injured people unconscious on the ground and being picked up by ambulances.
There were many passers-by along the street too and they had stopped to look. Some were shooting with mobile phones. I even heard someone shouting for the police to stop.
A group of men stopped me and asked if I was a member of the press. I said yes and they asked to be interviewed.
I looked over my shoulder to see if there were any policemen close by. But none were since they were too busy doing what they were doing.
The men told me that they had never seen anything like this before. They said it looked like a bunch of cats going wild in the back alleys looking for mice.
They told me that they felt disgusted. One of them even said that he was a retired policeman and he had never done anything of this sort during his career.
Once they were done expressing their feelings, I turned off my camera. Walked into the parking lot where my car was and drove off to go home and hug my daughter.
That Saturday, I had never felt so angry before. Angry because my fellow journalists and I were threatened and assaulted for doing our jobs.
In all my years as a journalist, I have never felt as threatened and intimidated as I did that day. And I am one who has reported in conflict zones such as Afghanistan, Lebanon and Pattani.
If the police felt like they were justified in what they were doing, why then did they not allow journalists to document it?
That Saturday, I also felt very sad. Sad because I witnessed so many of my fellow Malaysians suffer at the hands of those who were supposed to protect them.
There is so much noise right now in the country.
This side accusing that side of breaching the barricades, and that side accusing this side of not complying with the law.
This side accusing that side of being unjust, and that side accusing this side of not being reasonable.
Like I said, this is all just noise.
I have never begged before. But I am begging now. I am begging that we Malaysians keep our eyes on the ball and do what is best for our country.
* The views expressed here are the personal views of the columnist.

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