Tuesday, March 02, 2004

What Happened at the Demonstration?

Di bawah ini adalah cebisan kisah tentang apa yang terjadi semasa demonstrasi di Bukit Aman sabtu lepas. Kisah ini berdasarkan pandangan saudara Koy yang turut sama menyertai demonstrasi tersebut. Koy adalah salah seorang aktivis yang aktif di Universiti Bangsar Utama.

Peserta pertama yang ditahan dan diperlakukan dengan kejam oleh pihak polis adalah Fahmi Reza. Beliau adalah salah seorang artis-aktivis yang aktif dan merupakan penggerak utama Artis Pro Activ.

Today, I witnessed first-hand the kind of force that the Malaysian police are able to brandish against a civil and peaceful assembly.

For me, it is especially ironic that a peaceful assembly to inform the public about unnecessary police violence in the last 4 years resulted in one of the most blatant shows of police force I've seen in my short life.

The assembly began at 10 a.m. in front of Bukit Aman police headquarters and it was a peaceful meeting of like-minded folk, among them family members of victims of police brutality, NGOs and activists, press, and regular citizens. Everything was going smoothly--some introductory remarks were made and a few very short speeches--but before the speakers could go on, before family members could come forward to speak about the death of their loved ones at the hands of the police, a few policemen swarmed the crowd in what appeared to be an impending arrest of the key speakers.

During the ensuing chaos I stepped away from the crush of people and moved to the right of the crowd. It was here that I witnessed with my own eyes a group of about 6-7 policemen surround and grab artist-activist Fahmi Reza as he was standing with his friends, holding up placards and signs that visually depicted victims of police brutality in the past and images of police.

The policemen not only surrounded Fahmi and his friends but they physically manhandled Fahmi, pulling and tearing at his clothes until his shirt completely ripped, and I could see them roughly yanking him and hitting him as they tried to snatch his bag from him. They also knocked his spectacles off, immediately rendering him blind and disoriented because he could not see without his spectacles. At this point, Fahmi was yelling "Tolong! Tolong!" but no-one could come to his aid because he was physically hauled by at
least 6 policemen while 4-5 others were pushing and punching people away from Fahmi.

The policemen dragged him away from the rest of his friends and the crowd and they forcibly restrained him as he tried to wriggle free from their vice-like grip. Fahmi tried to hold his ground and not move but he was overpowered by the 6 or more policemen. I was powerless to do anything because there were so many of them all surrounding him, effectively disallowing anyone from coming close.

The policemen then wrestled Fahmi to the ground when it became clear that others had seen what they had done. As the crowd began to surge around the police barricade around Fahmi and the media/press began to take pictures, the police became even more aggressive and violent and closed-in on Fahmi,
trying to block him from the view of cameras. They formed a circle around Fahmi.

I knelt down to try and look between their legs and I saw them step on Fahmi, kick him and push his face onto the tarred surface. He was grimacing and crying out from pain as the left side of his face scraped the ground and the policemen were physically pressing down on his face and his entire body. I felt sick to my stomach watching this scene.

How is it fair or equitable to have 6-7 policemen physically overpower and brutally assault a skinny young boy with spectacles who was unarmed? The police kept shouting "Pisau" as if Fahmi was brandishing a weapon but I had not seen him hold any kind of knife or weapon when he was arrested. Certainly, when the 6-7 policemen pushed Fahmi to the ground and stepped on him, Fahmi had no weapon on his body and furthermore, he was held down and physically restrained in a manner that would ensure he would not be able to move or do anything but submit to the brutal will of the police.

I saw a woman, whom I later found out was Elizabeth Wong, try to push through the police barricade to help Fahmi but they restrained her and then also manhandled her, hauling her away by lifting her by the legs and dragging her kicking and screaming. I was shocked at the blatant display of police brutality towards Fahmi and Elizabeth. I did not understand why it was necessary to go through such lengths to detain 2 individuals who were clearly not engaging in any violent show of force and who were not even
speaking to the crowd.

The scene between the 6-7 policemen and Fahmi--and particularly, when I saw him being wrestled and pushed to the ground, and his face smashed against the tarred road, and then kicked and hit when he was down--reminded me of the Rodney King incident in Los Angeles in America in 1992. I also remembered all the policemen who were witnesses to the Rodney King beating but who did nothing to intervene.

This morning, while the policemen assaulted Fahmi in a manner that was unnecessarily brutal and violent, I saw with my own eyes more than 4 Inspectors stand by, watching and not intervening in the assault.

Why did the police use such brute force to arrest Fahmi? Why was it necessary to swarm a peaceful assembly of people who were clearly not there to provoke, agitate or do anything beyond expressing their feelings of injustice at the hands of police violence and to create awareness about what has been happening behind a veil of police bureaucracy?

The people who caused the assembly to become chaotic, those who agitated and provoked the crowd and those who had a strong hand in changing the dynamic of the assembly and to manipulate the way people would see the event: these people were the police themselves. And this morning, I saw policemen in all colors and stripes, from plainclothes, Special Branch types, to lower ranking officers to Inspectors. All of them watched and witnessed the scene like I did.

The only difference is that I was powerless and could not do anything. They, on the other hand, not only initiated and provoked a situation that resulted in the arrest of 17 people, but they also brutally and violently assaulted and manhandled Fahmi and Elizabeth, and later on Tian Chua as well. The police in this case was not powerless but in fact, they exhibited and showed off their power to full glory and without a hint of remorse or apologies.

I came to the demonstration today expecting the police to show a good faith effort at proving to the people that they are capable of humanity and some basic level of human civility. Instead, I left with a bitter taste in my mouth and a feeling of being sick to my stomach at the sight of them assaulting innocent citizens who were merely having a peaceful gathering.

by an eye-witness

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