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
start a fight with them. I drew closer to them and was surprised to notice that they were under the influence of alcohol. I then tried to calm them and advise them not to join in the provocation. The crowd was smart enough and distanced themselves.
“I was moved by the presence of mixed races that had united for the cause,” he told Beliefnet. “I was even more surprised to see thousands of Chinese Malaysians present there that afternoon. They were previously not interested in these things. I believe that they have finally come to realize how the government systematically oppressed their rights over the years and cheated on them. But Bersih has succeeded in breaking through those barriers and reuniting the races in Malaysia as ‘one family’ or Anak Bangsa Malaysia.
“Around 1:45 pm, we started to march together with the thousands of peaceful protesters towards Dataran Square.”
Friends and family followed Stanley as he texted worldwide live reports of what was unfolding. The day before, he had passed along rumors that the police would be wielding a new anti-protest tool, a “Long Range Acoustic Device” or LRAD, developed to create pain-inducing tones. “Bring earplugs for the rally,” had texted Stanley. “Pass the news.”
And now as thousands gathered, “everything has started ‘way before schedule,” he texted from within the crowd. “Thousands are on the streets now.”
A fellow marcher reported from Stanley’s hometown: ”20,000 people already at the Esplanade in Penang. The people of Penang must show solidarity with the people of Kuala Lumpur. We are dealing with something bigger than all of us combined.”
Demonstrators texted back and forth comparisons to Bastille Day — when the French monarchy began to splinter. ”Like the French on July 14, 1789,” tweeted one participant, ”we Malaysians are calling for liberty, equality and fraternity. The people must rise up and join hands with all their Malaysian brothers across the whole of Malaysia and all over the world for free and fair elections.
“We also want to rid this country of greed and corruption, of greed and graft.”
Moments later, Stanley reported: “Believe it or not, over 50,000 people have flooded the streets of Kuala Lumpur. Just gave a speech and led the crowd into chanting ‘Bersih! Bersih! Bersih!’ Massive crowd. Never ever seen this many people in my life.”
A friend back home responded: “God’s blessing with u guys…salute u guys.” Another tweeted: “Victory is with us bro!”
Then things began to heat up. Later Stanley would recall, “Just as a small number of people succeeded in moving away the barricades and ran inside towards Dataran, tear gas was fired into the air. I was far away from the barricades at that time. The crowd was huge and unable to run. The tear gas was intentionally fired in front and at the back of us, preventing us from running away but to inhale the gas. I was choked, my eyes burning, my skin burning, I could not see.
“I thought of giving up and just falling on the ground, but something kept on telling me in my mind, ‘Run, run!’ and I knew it was Jesus. People were collapsing beside me, falling on the ground. It was terrible. The police did not stop but continued to fire more tear gas, some aimed directly at the protesters.
“To make matters worse, the light rail train system was shut down, the buses and taxis were not entering town, preventing people from moving out from the city. It was very clear that the police were just waiting for a reason to attack the peaceful protesters and not allow us to move out.
On the scene, Stanley texted: “Tear gas terrible. Difficult to breathe. The crowd has broken into large groups … Big chaos…. Teargas n water canon has been fired… I M hurt.”
A friend responded: ”Take care! God is with you.”
A few minutes later, Stanley texted back: “I’m fine guys. just hurt in my legs… Crowd is marching forward. Continuing tear gas and water cannon.”
Then there was silence from Stanley for five minutes until he texted: “The rally has turned violent. Police car just rammed into a protester on the street. The crowd is defending. Police have taken their guns out for warning. Situation here is terrible. Police car overturned by angry protesters.
“Police car just missed us. I ran for shelter and the car rammed into a building.”
Then, apparently he lost access to the Internet.
Friends and family waited anxiously for news, but nothing came.
“It was chaos around the lanes leading to Dataran,” he told Beliefnet later. “Police were chasing after protesters and beating them up terribly. Whenever they managed to nab a protester, 10-20 police officers would be whacking the protester till he was knocked out. Journalists trying to record the incident were also beaten up and their digital equipment broken into pieces.
“There were also reports of lawyers being beaten up. The police were