Bersih 3: Not Oprah’s Favourite Things

With Zara Kahan, with whom I got very painfully tear-gassed next to Central Market. To quote her during our prolonged recovery, "padan muka kau Zain kena tear gas. Aku dah cakap tadi, diorang sure tembak kita."


This post is dedicated to compiling key stories and incidences – not receiving sufficient attention – which took place in KL on 28 April 2012 during the Bersih 3.0 demonstration. If you have any, please share it with people you know. I have three to write about. And to be clear, it is not to deny any good or wrong doing by the authorities or demonstrators.

Two demonstrators protecting one of the two police officers from the overturned car. | Source: Perak Today

1. At Sogo, there were reports that the police maliciously rammed into demonstrators. This did not happen.

The actual scene was an already damaged police car – driving, avoiding demonstrators, and that subsequently lost control, ramming into a wall. While some people tried to attack them, some protected them from their fellow demonstrators. The car was overturned not out of protest, but in suspicion that there was someone underneath.

This is not the sort of blogpost where I get into a discussion of whose fault it is, or who started all this. So let’s not do that. It is to point out that something happened here, contrary to a lot of the stories that have been floating around. Watch the video, click here. The picture above is of the people who made clear they were protecting the police officer. The violence that took place is not acceptable, whoever’s side we’re on.


Next to Central Market, moments before a number of tear gas canisters were shot in our direction. The internal and external bodily pain experienced from the gas was intense.

2. I was there myself – not in Sogo, but the Central Market area. Some people were provoked. Including the police.

In various instances (this demonstration and also previous ones), violence does not happen unless it is provoked and this can take place in many ways. If the attitude of the authorities is to stop and avoid the demonstrations, instead of managing and facilitating it, this too can be read as a provocation, although not necessarily.

From my point of view, demonstrators don’t get violent if there’s a sense of co-operation (not provocation) by the authorities because – keep in mind, the authorities managing the situation are often not the ones whom demonstrators are demonstrating at.

However, a first-hand account from someone I personally know was that there were a group of protestors provoking the Federal Reserve Unit (FRU) a.k.a. the riot police, shouting and throwing items at them. They were repeatedly told by the person I know and a few others to calm down and stop what they were doing. Some took heed of their advice, some didn’t.

At the same time, some might argue that the formation in which the FRU was moving towards them – with trucks accompanied by the banging on shields with their batons – was provocation too. That was actually done to get protestors to disperse from assembling – something which the latter held as their enshrined right. Forcibly or non-forcibly imposing on someone to not do something which they have the right to, is provocation too.

But basically my point is the portion I underlined above. Some of the FRU did indeed provoke some demonstrators. And some demonstrators who witnessed such made a clear and conscious effort to tell their fellow demonstrators not to react in a provocative manner against them.

On my end, I got to witness these two old people walking away from the city after the rally, consciously holding hands and smiling.

View from the Legal Aid Council team who were waiting outside where the demonstrators were arrested. They waited from at least 5.30pm, till now at time of writing, 3am. | Source: Syahredzan Johan

3. If it is law, does it mean it is right? If it is right, does it mean it is law?

Let’s just say, the law says that…a thief who is caught with RM1,000 should be murdered (or maybe get to keep what he stole). While we know that is not right and just, some of us might say, “Well, that is the law and we must follow it.” This can’t be the right purpose of law, which is to achieve justice and adhere to the constitution. But hey, some people think this way.

Laws in Malaysia are based on the Federal Constitution. Think of the former as branches to a tree, and the latter as the tree trunk and the roots itself. Sometimes, some of the branches are not consistent in growth and essence with the trunk. When this happens, the branch is considered to have no life because it is inconsistent. In law, that means it is unconstitutional.

Some people say, according to a law the demonstration today is illegal. Some other people say, that law making the demonstration illegal has no life, because it is unconstitutional. They say this because the Federal Constitution says that an assembly to express – one, like this – is the right of every Malaysian. But whatever, the said law shows that it is illegal.

Furthermore some people say – follow the law, which means demonstrators might get arrested. Now the law also says that if you are arrested, you have the right to be informed of why you were arrested and to be allowed to contact a lawyer within 24 hours of your arrest. You are also guaranteed the right be defended by a lawyer of your choice, not Mother’s Choice. You can find this law/law in two places (must be quite important kan?). First, in Seciton 28A of the Criminal Procedure Code, and second, in the supreme tree trunking Federal Constitution at Article 5(3).

Tweet from a Legal Aid Council lawyer. Take note of the time of posting, 2.53am.

Anyway, back to the demonstrations, people were arrested. The Legal Aid Council, lawyers who provide legal assistance for free, were not given access to the people in police custody. The police ignored and gave them no acknowledgement whatsoever, while they waited outside the gates for hours.

Now if the police arrest the demonstrators because they were following the law, they shouldn’t have anything to hide. However, they too should continue to follow the law by allowing those arrested to have access to these lawyers. The latter – the Legal Aid Council – are a group of lawyers who provide their service regardless of who or why someone is arrested.

So I suppose in this context – after 24 hours, if strictly and silly-ly speaking – the police is doing something illegal. I wonder if they will be arrested. I don’t know if there’s a law for that, but that sounds fair, no? Yes? Maybe this is a question we can answer best were we the ones arrested.

Valid point.

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