Pastor Took to the Streets for the Next Generation
Pastor Allen Tan (Yew Fook)
I am a Pastor. I am not affiliated with any political party, but instead I cared about the country over the years about the abnormal things surrounding us. I wrote in the newspapers for the past three decades, and had been a columnist and a feature writer, criticizing about inappropriate policies and practices by both the ruling and opposition parties. And I would provide constructive ideas. In the process of writing, the freedom for my expressions was getting narrower by the day. Thus subsequently I wrote less recently!
I looked forward to the July 9 BERSIH 2.0 Assembly. I figured out how to participate in it, because the Federal Government and the Royal Police Force had been making a lot of scared actions and distorted information.
When Bersih complied with the King to take into account the social order and were willing to hold a rally at Merdeka Stadium instead of a street march, people thought that was good news and they could be assured of free participation. Who knows the Government and the police have classified Bersih as an illegal organization and refused to grant a permit!
Finally, the IGP called upon them to change to the Shah Alam Stadium. It was strange, since Bersih was an illegal organization, why they were allowed to hold it in another stadium?
Bersih chose Merdeka Stadium was right move. The venue had a special meaning in it, that is, Tunku Abdul Rahman in 1957 declared Malaya an independent country at that stadium, and he became the first Prime Minister. Independence speaks of freedom. The purpose of the rally was to urge the government to implement a fair and clean electoral system and to submit a memo the King at the palace. So Merdeka Stadium is most suitable for that purpose.
Since it was not permitted, which means people will be hampered by the authorities! In recent days newspapers and radio and television broadcast were overwhelmed with news about road closures, roadblocks, arrests, calling people not to go to gatherings, and other like information. Malaysians are generally afraid of going against orders, so such information will certainly reach a certain level of scared effect.
When the date approached, the government further announced that on July 8 Puduraya Bus Station would be closed for buses from outstations, and public buses to stop operating on July 9 in Kuala Lumpur city center. Two years ago I participated in the Anti-ISA rally.
With the experience about the action by the authorities, I expected that KTM, LRT and Monorail transports would encounter unexpected difficulties for the public on July 9. And it came to pass! So two other Pastors and I made arrangement to put up a night on July 8 at the vicinity of Jingwu Hill.
Over at the place we lodged we had a pleasant surprise to see the Bishop from a certain denomination was there with a Pastor from one of its Churches. They will participate in the rally too! It was a full-house at the building that evening being occupied by a group of Christians who were participating in the rally, we were not alone!
Oppressed by fear
At evening we bought a night-issue “China Press”, and found the heading that says “Will Arrest Everyone on Sight”. That had really frightened us off. We were still flesh and blood! On Sunday 8.30 am I would be preaching in Petaling Jaya. If KL was to be declared a state of emergency on Saturday, or if there is no public transport to go home, or I was being arrested, who will take over my itinerary?
For Malaysian Christian Churches, currently it is rare for making bold speech, if Pastors were to be arrested, would you get appraisal from church leaders and believers or would you be rebuked? I let the readers to judge about it! A few days ago the Federal Reserve Unit had done training with the Army, thus would they open fire on the crowd? Thousands of Malay martial arts fighters had pledged to fight with the people who joined the rally, would they deliberately cause trouble? Oh if I die let me die!
If the late Rev. Martin Luther King did not come forward to confront the authorities boldly over discrimination of the Blacks, there would not be a black man President like Barack Obama today. I went to bed early that night; maybe it was an act of trying to bury my worries. I woke up middle of the night praying. Saturday morning when my eyes were opened seeing the first ray of sunlight, I felt a deep peace that had surpassed understanding. Fear no longer oppressed me! I knew God will do great things in this country now!
We go out for breakfast at Kota Raya around Sultan Street area. We saw people who were here and there, and we knew these were our fellow partners. We returned to our rooms and watched live TV coverage. Maybe it did not strike the authorities’ minds that the live broadcast had in fact become a good source of information for the rally participants to plan for strategic actions. Reports also said many people were arrested at the train stations and many were barred from getting out of the gates.
Our rooms were at a high floor which enabled us to have a bird’s eye-view on crowd movements. At 1.00 pm we saw people flock to Petaling and Sultan Streets with shouts of slogans. A Pastor and I got down and joined the crowd, and whereas another Pastor had gone down earlier. By then we lost contact with him. Our group could not break through the Hang Tuah Road which was heavily guarded by FRU police, so we turned back and headed to the Maybank Building.
There, whenever we heard of an applause it was because of a large group of people been successfully breaking through the police barricade. In a short moment more and more people had converged at Pudu Road area. Our group had a lot of people, roughly estimated as at least twenty thousand people, right? People who were bold wore yellow Bersih shirts. If not, some held yellow balloons, flowers, and other yellow things instead.
Most people did not dress up in yellow so as to avoid being arrested without first accomplishing our missions! Like a carnival here, we met old and new friends, regardless of race. Then who say we were not Sons of Malaysia? Who say we were not a peaceful assembly?
We had three major races of West Malaysia and people from East Malaysia. I am pleased to see many young people there, including many teenage girls. Seeing those young people who had a heart for pursuing democracy would mean there is rescue and hope for Malaysia!
Tensions likened to a battlefield
Our plan was to hold a rally in the Stadium instead of a street march. Since we could not get near to the stadium we had to rally in the streets. The crowd gradually walked to Puduraya along Pudu Road. I did not know who made decisions for the lead. I thought we would make a detour to head to the Stadium by passing by the old Pudu Jail. We were forced to halt when there was a FRU barricade at Bukit Bintang Road in front of the traffic lights.
We could not cross the “Red Sea” (the red helmets of the FRU police were like the Red Sea). Where is Moses then? FRU were carrying rifles, my God, we were unarmed, why they needed to heavily arming themselves? Police were stationed at back and front of the crowd as if we were in a battlefield. The police had caused unnecessary tensions in KL city center.
Soon I came to see water cannon trucks arrived at Maybank.
To my previous experience at the Anti-ISA rally, I knew the police would soon launch a water cannon and tear gas attack simultaneously! I cautioned my Pastor friend to run. I believed many of us were first-time participants, and that was why they did not guard themselves against the police’s swift action.
True enough, jets of water were being shot onto the crowd and were followed by sounds of bang bang bang – tear gas was fired.
Many people were trapped in thick smoke, and then the victims suffered teary eyes and running noses. Their visions were hindered and they sprawled in panic trying to escape out of the messy scene. Though others who were not trapped in the thick smoke, they too were infected by the gas.
We passed around mineral salts to each other and we sucked in our mouths and were thus relieved. Many used it to wash their eyes and faces. Because too many people were using mobile phones, we were unable to connect with our other Pastor friend. When we were backed to the room in the evening, then only we knew that he had encountered a miserable experience, that he was hit badly by water cannon and gas at Maybank area. I knew how terrible it was when two years ago how I was hit by them at Tuanku Abdul Rahman Road inside the mall. So let me express my empathy to all of you who were victims at the 709 Bersih Rally.
At about 2.20 pm, it began to rain, it was quite heavy, but we said it was God who helped us because the rain will extinguish the smokes. Yes, the police had indeed stopped firing tear gas by then! And water from the water cannons was chemical-laced which would cause irritations on the skins. Now the rain water had helped to flush off the chemicals, Hallelujah!
Some people wanted to leave for shelter when it rains, but we heard voices shouting, “Do not be afraid, and do not run away!” People then stood in the rain and some others even sat down on the road. The rain had made us more encouraged! We were sand-witched in between by the police at Pudu Road.
The rain was getting heavier, when it was the heaviest, water cannon trucks, police trucks and the FRU sped down from Bukit Bintang junction. The crowd fled for their lives, dashing to the nearest place they could hide. My friend and I fled into the small lane next to Tung Shin Hospital. Almost immediately we carefully moved back and peeped.
The atmosphere was too tense, and police were moving up and down Pudu Road. Water cannons and tear gas were fired, and even hospitals were not spared. Many people had fled into Tung Shin Hospital and Chinese Maternity Hospital. As police were hunting for the participants in the hospitals, some of them risked their lives by scaling wire-barbed walls and in order to cross to the other side where I was.
We helped them.
What wrong had we done?
We were peacefully people who just wanted to make petitions for a fair and clean electoral system!
Marched by five-star hotels
More people had joined us at the lane. Some guys asked and directed us to go to Bukit Nanas. Some people were being dispersed by the attack just now and they did not get to connect with us again, but we still had a long queue of people, say, maybe at least 10,000 people, right? We’re really marching in procession now, and this was not our original plan. We passed by residential areas, Ampang road, and Raja Raja Chulan Road.
Wow, there were so many five-star hotels and commercial buildings along the way, and the procession had attracted many foreign tourists, staff and the passers-by. They stood outside their buildings, and many of them were busy taking pictures and videos!
That was definitely one more way God was helping us!
Those spectators would certainly spread the news back home. As we marched we repeatedly shouted slogans such as “Bersih Bersih, Pilihan Raya (clean clean, general elections); Bangkit Rakyat (Rise up People).” At this time, many police had just looked on, there were no actions from them, and perhaps they did not want the tourists to see the negative image of the Malaysian police force, right?
Finally, we marched to the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre (KLCC) Square, next to the Twin Towers. It was already 4.00 pm. We all sat down, and several leaders gave their speeches for about 20 minutes. Suddenly the police pounced on the people from KLCC side, and everybody rose up and fled. Many people were arrested! This time people were scattered in different directions. So the people dismissed themselves.
Wow, our group had walked 20 kilometers, right?
By now my Pastor friend and I had to walk back to our room before we headed off to the KTM station. We only came to know about the situations of gatherings in other places later.
If not because the authorities had used all means and avenues to suppress the rally, we could have several fold more in the crowd.
I got home at 9.00 pm. After a shower, as I sat down relaxing, I felt a cleaner atmosphere that was engulfing Malaysia. One of the major achievements of the rally was the elimination of fears in most of the hearts of Malaysians. Those who did not participate would be inspired by the big crowd, and subsequently they were awakened! Malaysians will be more positive now in upholding the Federal Constitutional right in freedom of assembly.
The success of the Bersih 2.0 Rally was just the beginning, now the real mission is to pursue on in making sure that the Government get the 8-point petition done. For any electoral candidates, it is only a true victory when their seats were won through fair and clean elections.
It was clearly the People Power that had enabled the success in this rally. I knew my involvement in activism is worthwhile. I had contributed a little effort for the sons of Malaysia. And now I can also tell my children that I cared for their future, and I took to the streets for my next generation!