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.
“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.