2007 Bersih rally


2007 Bersih rally

The 2007 Bersih Rally was a rally held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on November 10, 2007. Event organizers intended to have a peaceful, non-violent rally, advising participants in the days and weeks beforehand how to keep the rally peaceful. However the rally was marred by government sanctioned police violence. The aim of this walk was to campaign for electoral reform. It was precipitated by allegations of corruption and discrepancies in the Malaysian election system that heavily favor the ruling political party, Barisan Nasional, which has been in power since Malaysia achieved its independence in 1957.

Much of the publicity for the rally was distributed through online media and blogs. Initially, the organisers planned to have a gathering point at Dataran Merdeka square. However, it was later revealed that this was a red herring to distract the police. The locations of the four gathering points were only released the day before the protests by word of mouth, mobile phones and emails.

Consequently, the rally began with gatherings of people at four locations: Sogo department store, Masjid India, Masjid Negara and Pasar Seni. These four groups of people combined into a single group on their march towards the palace gates to hand over a memorandum to the King demanding electoral reform. [http://asiasentinel.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=863&Itemid=31 Malaysian Petitioners Defy Police] ] Early estimates put the number of attendees between 10,000 to 40,000. [http://www.bernama.com.my/bernama/v3/news.php?id=294788 Bersih Not Given Permission To Hold Rally] ] Plans called for 100,000 people to join in the rally, and there are claims that this number was indeed achieved, as the many early estimates failed to include those who simultaneously gathered at different locations and those that were barred by police from continuing the walk.

The title of the rally is derived from the name of the organizers, BERSIH (Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections). [http://bersih.org/ BERSIH Official Site] ] The word " _ms. bersih" means clean in Malay.

BERSIH demands

There are currently four demands made by BERSIH intended to ensure Malaysians have access to genuine democratic elections. They all relate to the reforming of the current electoral system. They are:

*Usage of Indelible Ink (which has already been agreed to by the Electoral Commission) [http://bersih.org/?page_id=115 Long-Term Reform Agenda] - from BERSIH official website] :"This makes it much more difficult to commit electoral fraud by lodging more than one vote.
*Clean-up of Registered Voters Roll:"The removal of, for example, deceased people from the Registered Voters Roll. Such erroneous entries are too easily abused for fraudulent electoral gain.
*Abolition of Postal Votes, and:"These too are easily abused. The majority of postal votes at Malaysian elections come from Malaysian Public Servants working overseas as diplomats or peace keepers. It has been suggested that these public servants are routinely bullied into voting for a particular candidate by their employer.
*Access to the Government controlled print and broadcast media for Opposition Parties.:"This is perhaps the most important demand made by BERSIH. Opposition parties need the same access to Newspapers and Television that is afforded to the Government if they are to effectively communicate their policies to the Malaysian people.

These demands have been incorporated into the Memorandum for submission to Seri Paduka Baginda Yang Di-Pertuan Agong. The points can be seen on yellow BERSIH T-shirts worn by many participants during the rally. Yellow is the color that has been chosen to represent the BERSIH movement.

Preparations

Organiser's preparations

Initially, organisers decided on 2 locations for rally participants to gather before marching on to the Istana Negara: Masjid Negara and Dataran Merdeka, two of the most significant landmarks in Kuala Lumpur. However, the day before the rallies were due, the organisers decided to change the locations to Sogo department store, Masjid India, Masjid Negara and Pasar Seni, in an attempt to divert riot police's attention. Furthermore, a decoy of 500 people were sent to Dataran Merdeka to 'attempt' to get into the square. This worked well, as the new meeting points were not closed by the police.

In the days before the rally organizers made a concerted effort to ensure a peaceful rally advising participants to among other things:

*Do not bring flags or other items that feature the logo of a particular political party as this is a non-partisan rally.

*Do not bring anything sharp except a pen.

*Do not bring anything that can explode or burn easily such as molotov cocktails or firecrackers.

*Do not bring weapons such as wood, iron rods, iron chains, guns or anything dangerous.

*Follow directions from BERSIH organizers during the rally.

*Do not push and shove during the gathering and procession.

*Avoid mocking or insulting behaviour during the rally.

*Celebrate the rally with peace and harmony.

*Make sure you sit when the rally leader is giving a speech.

*Do not throw your rubbish everywhere.

*Make sure you disperse calmly and peacefully when you are given the direction to do so.

*Do not challenge or argue with the police when they provoke you. Keep yourself quiet.

*Do not talk too much with the Police.

*Request the name and number of any Police Officer that detains you and ask them why you are being detained and under what section.

Despite these efforts to ensure a peaceful rally, the event was marred by violence and major public disruption as a result of police determination to stop the rally.

Government preparations

In the days leading up to the rally, the government warned Malaysians not to take part in the rally as an official permit had not been granted. Citizens were warned that anyone who turned up and participate in the rally would be immediately arrested, because the rally is deemed as illegal since the current Malaysian law bans public gatherings of more than five persons without a permit.However, it should be noted that in July last year, a police permit has released for Umno Youth to hold a protest to demand that the US and Israel end the violence in the Middle East, while US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was in Kuala Lumpur for a meeting with Asean leaders.

Local television channels, controlled by the ruling party, continually showed video footage of violent protests from other countries, complemented by the tagline "Demonstration always ends in violence." The Prime Minister of Malaysia, Abdullah Badawi, was quoted saying "Saya pantang dicabar" (translation: I will not be challenged). He urged Malaysians to use elections to give their feedback. [http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2007/11/10/nation/19438454&sec=nation Reject demos and use polls, PM urges public] ] He had vowed to crack down on the rally and gave his permission to the police to break up the rally and possibly arrest its participants. [http://www.malaysiakini.com/news/74591 PM vows to crack down on Bersih rally] ]

Responses

Police's response

Hours before the rally was due to occur, thousands of police were stationed around Merdeka Square, and traffic coming into Kuala Lumpur had to pass through numerous security checkpoints, some saying checkpoints began at Pagoh, Johor and Kemaman, Terrengganu. [http://www.bernama.com.my/bernama/v3/news.php?id=295356 Over 1,000 Cops Placed On Alert For Illegal Assembly] ] This created widespread traffic congestion throughout the entire Klang Valley area. Although it was claimed by the government that the actual rally was the cause of the jam, other sources contradicted this, stating that the numerous barricades and roadblocks set up by police officers were the direct source of the congestion. [http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2007/11/11/nation/19443935&sec=nation Road closures, checks cause massive jams in Klang Valley] - The Star, 11 November 2007.]

Authorities also made changes to the train schedule in an attempt to make it more difficult for people to reach the rally area. Trains on the Kelana Jaya LRT line coming into the city from Kelana Jaya, which normally stop at Pasar Seni and Masjid Jamek, instead bypassed those stations, going from KL Sentral directly to Dang Wangi Station. Passengers were not given any warning of this and many did not realize they would not be able to stop at these stations until the train was already on its way to Dang Wangi or Sentral.

During the rally, the police responded by firing chemical laced water cannons and tear gas at rally participants at the Masjid Jamek and Bandaraya LRT meeting points. [http://www.reuters.com/article/latestCrisis/idUSSP165982 Malaysia police use water cannon at Anwar rally] ] [http://edition.cnn.com/2007/WORLD/asiapcf/11/10/malaysia.protests/index.html Teargas used on rare Malaysia demo] ] 245 people were arrested according to the local daily newspapers The Star, owned by MCA, one of the coalition parties of the current ruling government. [http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2007/11/11/nation/19443759&sec=nation Teargas and water cannons used on illegal assembly, 245 held] ] Independent sources, however, quoted only 34 people were arrested and released the night later. [ [http://www.suaram.net/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=778&Itemid=1 Updates: Total number of arrests 34 – all released by 11pm; several more injured] . Suaram. Retrieved November 11 2007.]

Purportedly, the organisers of BERSIH had ordered participants to be cooperative and the assembly was to remain peaceful at all times.

Media's response

Foreign media such as Al-Jazeera covered the event with detailed videos and ground and satellite images. BBC and CNN featured the news in their online papers as well. Bangkok Post published this event on its internet edition and fine print.

On the other hand, ironically, local papers such as The Star only managed to feature a traffic jam picture on page 8 of its Sunday edition. Most of the local papers did not feature this as an important event despite the magnitude of the rally whereas protests in other countries were covered almost daily in full detail.

Some skeptics claim the blackout is because most major media are controlled by the ruling party, akin to the famous Tiananmen Square Protest where the ruling Chinese Government successfully blocked any news about the incident.

Because of this, many Internet savvy Malaysians read the alternative online news such as Malaysiakini and Malaysia Today. Blogs and Forums were also in full force discussing the rally to fill the void left by local mainstream media.

Government responses

Prime Minister

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi remarked that the Malaysian Royalty should not be dragged into Malaysian politics. He further alleged that the rally constituted an attempt by the Opposition to drag the Yang di-Pertuan Agong into the issue [ [http://www.thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2007/11/11/nation/20071111141403&sec=nation PM: Don’t drag royalty into politics] ] [ [http://www.thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2007/11/12/nation/19445828&sec=nation&focus=1 Opposition trying to drag King into says Pak Lah] ] . Constitutionally, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong is the Head of the State while the Prime Minister is the Head of Government. Earlier, BERSIH had informed the public that the rally is a non-partisan activity, agreed by all organisers with NGOs (non-governmental organisations) forming the principal backbone of the movement, followed by some opposition parties.

BERSIH had earlier insisted the rally was non-partisan; however, no parties from the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition participated. In fact, there was a cry for a clampdown on the rally by delegates and hard-liners in the 2007 UMNO Annual General Meeting. [ [http://bersih.org/?p=420 Khairy’s “Stop the BERSIH rally” video clip] ]

Information Minister

Later, Information Minister Datuk Seri Zainuddin Maidin criticized Al-Jazeera, denying reports that the police used excessive force in the demonstration. Zainuddin said that the police had to disperse the gathering with water cannons and tear gas since the rally was illegal. There are online allegations that certain journalists and civilians were beaten by authorities. [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FtQxwS0CfGs] Mainstream media confirmed arrests of people who had joined the rally. Most Malaysian media outlets generally gave the number of protesters present as approximately 4,000, although independent and international media reported a turnout ten times higher. Zainuddin Maidin was severely criticized in various socio-political blogs for his poor command of English shown during an interview with the Qatar based news group Al-Jazeera regarding the rally. [ [http://thecicak.com/zainuddin-maidin-makes-a-fool-of-himself-in-an-interview-about-the-bersih-protest/ Zainuddin Maidin disgraced Malaysians with poor English] ]

Later the people marched towards Istana Negara to hand over the memorandum after many attempts (from the police) to disperse the mob failed [ [http://www.thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2007/11/11/nation/19444042&sec=nation Najib on why police did not permit gathering] ] . Some had travelled from other states to claim their rights.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Department

Nazri Aziz, from the ruling party UMNO gave a negative response. He claimed there is democracy in Malaysia, therefore there is no necessity for a rally. [ [http://sun2surf.com/article.cfm?id=19941 Nazri: Bersih organisers suffering from 'short circuit'] ] .

Nazri further predicted that the opposition parties "are going to lose, and they are going to lose badly in the next elections". He also insisted that Malaysia was a democracy, thus invalidating comparisons with Myanmar because the Buddhist monks in Myanmar were protesting for the restoration of democracy in a country where the people were oppressed.

However, Nazri did not admit that protest is allowed in democracies. BERSIH demands, with support from citizens for the restoration of genuine democracy. Unclean elections due to unfair electoral processes is equivalent to false or absent democracy.

More over, both countries , Myanmar and Malaysia crack down on rallies and protests not permitted by the government. Human Rights associations across the world regard freedom to assemble and rally as fundamental rights of a citizen in democratic nations.

Royals' response

According to Malaysiakini, Yang di-Pertuan Agong Tuanku Mizan Zainal Abdidin in a rare press statement said neither he nor Istana Negara had directly or indirectly supported the massive rally held over the weekend in Kuala Lumpur. [http://www.malaysiakini.com/news/74869 King expressed disappointment over rally] ]

According to Bernama, the King, in a statement issued via a palace official, expressed regret over the claim that he and the palace had supported Saturday’s illegal gathering. [http://web7.bernama.com/bernama/v3/news.php?id=296616 Tuanku Mizan Regrets Claims He Supports Illegal Rally] - Bernama November 16, 2007 14:12 PM]

International response

On 29 November 2007, the AFP carried a comment by an anonymous official from the United States State Department stating that "We believe citizens of any country should be allowed to peacefully assemble and express their views." [cite news | first= | last= | coauthors= | title=US defends peaceful protests in Malaysia | date=2007-11-29 | publisher= | url =http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5infGs_bxYSVJWCbAUO9G-KimgJBQ | work =AFP | pages = | accessdate = 2007-11-29 | language = ]

Rally proceedings

It was reported that the rally participants played a 'cat and mouse' game with the riot police, as many of the groups were repeatedly stopped by the police and disallowed from continuing.

The group from Masjid Jamek were sprayed with water canons and tear gas canisters, but still managed to continue their march by joining the group congregating in front of the Sogo departmental store.

The group from Pasar Seni, led by Tian Chua attempted to pass through police barricades that blocked them from approaching the palace. This group also tried to negotiate with the police. As the negotiations were going on, this group found an alley that was not guarded by riot police, hence being able to bypass the police to get to the palace.

500 people from the Pasar Seni group joined part of the Sogo group to continue their march. Meanwhile, 10,000 people from Masjid Negara had begun marching to Istana Negara. They split into two groups to increase the chance of reaching Istana Negara.

A combined group of 40,000 people, stretching half a kilometer long along the highway were stopped by police 300 meters from the palace grounds. They were eventually joined by the group from Masjid Jamek and Sogo.

Police allowed a delegation of 7 people, including PAS's President Abdul Hadi Awang and Nasharuddin Mat Isa, DAP’s Lim Kit Siang and Lim Guan Eng and Keadilan's Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim to enter the palace.

After the memorandum was handed over to a palace secretary, most of the rally participants were seen walking back to Masjid Negara. About 20 people had been arrested earlier in the day and were held at Pudu police station. When they finally arrived at Masjid Negara, they were told to go home. Some of the rally participants went to the Pudu police station to support those who were detained.

Notes and references

ee also

* 2007 HINDRAF rally, a similarly large gathering in Kuala Lumpur occurring two weeks after the Bersih rally.

External links

* [http://www.bersih.org/ Official Bersih Website]
* [http://10nov.himpunan.info/index.php Official PAS Website For Bersih Rally]
* [http://photopages.malaysiakini.com/event/bersih101107/ Map showing movement of rally and contact with police] by Malaysiakini

News reports

* [http://www.malaysiakini.com/news/74652 SPECIAL REPORT: Bersih’s Nov 10 mass rally] on Malaysiakini
* [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/7088877.stm Malaysia police break up protest] on BBC

Videos

*youtube|jfpYZ4IGenY|Zainuddin phone interview - al Jazeera
*youtube|G4ycaduE_D4|BERSIH: Perhimpunan Rakyat Aman/ Peaceful People's Assembly
*youtube|TJXOVrziDlY|101 East- Malaysia protest- 15 Nov 07- Part 1
*youtube|YpGBTBkBcPc|101 East- Malaysia protest- 15 Nov 07- Part 2

Photo galleries

* [http://www.malaysia-today.net/fotos/Galeri/10Nov/index.html 10 November march to Istana Negara organised by BERSIH] on Malaysia Today
* [http://www.harakahdaily.net/bm/index.php/utama/koleksi-gambar-perhimpunan-rakyat-save-malaysia-restore-our-rights.html 10 November march to Istana Negara organised by BERSIH] on [http://www.harakahdaily.net/ HarakahDaily.net]


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