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.

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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

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.

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Rob Kerby, Senior Editor
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