My experience of 428, trapped by the FRU
KUALA LUMPUR, May 2 — Two friends and I arrived at Masjid Jamek around 11am on April 28.
We, like hundreds of others already there, were there for the BERSIH 3.0 gathering scheduled at 2pm around Dataran Merdeka.
The atmosphere at the time was relaxed, lively and not at all tense, even with the presence of several dozen uniformed police officers and a few police trucks.
People from all walks of life were walking about, carrying signs and wearing costumes related to the demand for free and fair elections.
McDonalds, Burger King, as well as road side vendors were doing brisk business. This proves that the resilient few did not let a peaceful protest hamper their livelihoods; they find solutions.
Around 12pm, groups of people from all directions started streaming into Jalan Tun Perak, and marched towards Jalan Raja.
There were representatives from various states, the anti-Lynas Himpunan Hijau group, and even the anti-Pengerang Deep Water Terminal project group came with their “Lobster man”.
My friends and I walked to Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, where we then joined a large group of people there for a sit-down protest.
Groups of people led by their leaders chanted “Hidup, hidup, hidup Bersih”, sang Rasa Sayang and the national anthem.
People of various races were seating together, chanting together and even laughing together when someone’s voice went off-pitch or somebody shouted somethins others couldn’t follow.
There was a group of elderly Chinese men and women, led by a gentleman with only a few teeth left, shouting some slogans in Malay and trying to lead the crowd in their chants.
However, most of us couldn’t understand his heavily accented Malay and could only manage to laugh and clap together.
Mind you, these was appreciative laughter and applause, and I think they felt the support from the crowd around them too. It was then I felt the true spirit of muhibbah. If only we could have more of these moments in our daily life.
Around 2:30pm, we left the group and walked towards the other end of Dataran Merdeka — adjacent to Klang river, next to Bar Council building.
A large group of FRU personnel were already in position here, blocking the bridge on Jalan Hang Lekiu leading to the Dataran Merdeka.
After a while, we saw a few people who looked like reporters removing the plastic barricades blocking the bridge.
People gradually started walking towards the other end of the bridge, just a few meters away from the FRU. Even then, most people were just busy taking photos of the FRU and mingling with each other. The situation was not tense as well.
At around 3:00pm, I received an SMS (couldn’t receive any calls from 2pm onwards, the phone lines were too jammed) telling me the FRU had started spraying chemicals and tear gas at the Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman crowd.
We began to leave the area, when suddenly, without any warning, the FRU here also started spraying chemicals at the crowd.
My friend was just telling us not to worry, as the FRU would usually give verbal warning, in three languages before firing at the crowd!
Luckily we were quite near Medan Pasar already, so we quickly hid into one of the five foot ways.
A young woman who was soaked thoroughly with chemical spray rushed in, and many of us quickly poured water on her.
She was trembling and apparently too scared to open her eyes due to the chemicals.
My friend got sprayed at the back, and immediately felt pain and itchiness.
Luckily he brought a spare set of clothes. Just as soon as he had finished changing his clothes, the FRU truck came charging up, and turned its spray nozzles at the crowd hiding at Medan Pasar.
This time, tear gas canisters were fired at us too, and everybody ran helter-skelter towards Lebuh Ampang.
Another group of FRU came firing tear gas from that direction and the crowd like scurrying rats were forced to hid at a back lane of Jalan Tun HS Lee.
As soon as there was some breathing space, people started to share water and salt to relieve the pain and irritations caused by the tear gas.
One of my friends didn’t bring a wet towel, so he and I took turns to cover our faces. He was also coughing and his eyes were tearing up badly.
At that moment, I really felt our group here resembled war refugees, trying to escape from the powerful and encroaching enemies, who seemed not satisfied to just chase off the group, but appeared bent on trapping, surrounding and torturing us!
Probably irritated by the tear gas, some residents of an adjacent building threw things down at us. This was naturally met with strong shouts of protests from our group.
After about 10 minutes of hiding, we gradually disperse towards Jalan Tun HS Lee. We were told Masjid Jamek and Plaza Rakyat LRT stations were closed, so we had to find other options to get home.
We walked towards Jalan Sultan, where we observed the situation to be normal. We could see people going about their daily lives and conducting business as usual.
Naturally, most of the protesters escaped here to clean and wash themselves, and to take a breather.
Many of us, total strangers to each other, shared experience of our earlier encounters and most of us were puzzled as to what triggered the aggression towards the protesters.
How strange and bizarre feeling it was to see a carnival-like atmosphere turn almost into a war zone in just a matter of minutes.
Some told us the situation along Jalan Tun Perak was much worse, and there were many injured while trying to escape from the police.
We walked to Pasar Seni LRT station, only to be told it was closed too. In the end, we had to take the Komuter train back home.
I reached home around 7pm. The last eight hours were one of the most fulfilling and inspirational moments of my life, and I definitely did not regret joining this historic gathering.
At least I will be able to tell my next generation proudly that I made an effort towards the social development of my country.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.