Risking everything, Malaysians text, tweet as protests turn violent

The Internet is bringing Bersih pro-reform protests to computer screens, iPads and smartphones worldwide -- as young activists risk their lives, using the social media to demand democracy.

BY: Rob Kerby, Senior Editor


He’s just a kid – a university law student  – but K. Sudhagaran Stanley is using the tools he has, the Internet, to demand change for his homeland.

Last week, it put his life at risk — but he texted and Facebooked all the way through a dramatic confrontation with police in which the devout young Christian says God delivered him from angry police.

Two Malaysian newspapers

Stanley and thousands like him have been marching in the streets of Malaysia’s cities and sharing every moment of it on Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, Twitter and the other social media – expressing a deep passion for their native Malaysia, a prosperous Pacific Rim republic in the South China Sea that shares the Malay Peninsula with Thailand and the island of Borneo with Indonesia.

While staying in touch on the Internet, Stanley took to the barricades with his friends – an estimated 50,000 of them in Malaysia’s capital of Kuala Lumpur as well as thousands more demonstrating at 85 locations in 35 countries the world.

But populist revolution has changed dramatically from Paris in 1789, Moscow in 1918 or even Tiananmen Square in 1989. Today’s protesters wield the Worldwide Web:  ”Finally arrived in Kuala Lumpur,” Stanley posted on Facebook to friends and family worldwide as the protests began. “All set for tomorrow.”

He and other fervent activists had brought their iPads, Androids and Blackberries to text each move of a Malaysian protest movement called Bersih,  which in Malay means simply “clean,” and which demands electoral reforms in Malaysia.

In the public squares and at their keyboards – quite often at both at the same time – tech-savvy Malaysians called for an end to what they say are age-old inequities unfairly giving power to an entrenched elite favoring the nation’s majority Malays, slighting Malaysians of Chinese and Indian heritage, and completely denying a voice to millions of Malaysians  pursuing  careers abroad.

K. Sudhagaran Stanley speaks to the crowds

Three times now, the Bersih movement has taken to the streets to publicly call for a comprehensive reform of Malaysia’s electoral process. Protesters call themselves the rakyat or “ordinary people” and believe they can bring about peaceful, democratic change.

As protests spread last week throughout Malaysia, Stanley was in the middle of it – smartphone charged, his fingers texting away. He’s a devout Catholic who a year ago helped outwit Muslim bureaucrats trying to block the importation of Bibles into Malaysia.

“Receiving reports that hundreds have flooded Dataran Square now,” Stanley reported. “On my way there now.”

He was flooded with responses, such as, “Wish I could attend,” and “I’m impressed. The more they tighten security, the more people wanna go see.”

Minutes later, Stanley reported: “Thousands have gathered. Not in plan. It’s fantastic. The streets are full,” followed by a cryptic: “The streets r havoc…”

Later he explained to Beliefnet, ”like every other Malaysian, I was there that day to demand free and fair elections. I was there because I personally had noticed how the government was trying to stay in power by cheating in the elections.”

For example, he cited evidence he had seen, such as non-citizen Burmese refugees being given voting ID cards – and told by the Malaysian government how to cast illegal ballots. “This dirty tactic by the Malaysian government is unacceptable and must be opposed and revealed,” said Stanley.

He spotted government troublemakers within the crowd, who he described as “young Malay youths provoking the police and trying to

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