Apr 30 2012

Photo essay: Bersih 3.0 in Kuala Lumpur

Published by at 5:48 am under Photos


Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Kuala Lumpur on Saturday, April 28, demanding free and fair elections, in a day that was to show the best and worst of Malaysia.

Democratic protest in all its glory.

Democratic protest in all its glory.

From the early morning, trains packed with protesters came into central KL; the major roads having been blocked by the police.

Standing room only.

Standing room only.

Yellow-clad supporters of the Bersih (clean in Malay) pro-democracy movement gathered in several different locations around the city, including outside Central Market. Other smaller rallies were held across Malaysia, and in dozens of locations round the world.

One of several gathering points.

One of several gathering points.

In among them were green-shirted demonstrators, campaigning against the Lynas rare earth plant in Pahang, which is considered too dangerous for Australia, but not for Malaysia.

Yellow and green combine at Bersih 3.0.

Yellow and green combine at Bersih 3.0.

It became quite clear early on that this protest was huge — far bigger than the two previous large Bersih rallies in 2007 and July last year. A group of international observers put the total attendance at close to 200,000 people.

One Malaysia

One Malaysia.

Young and old, male and female, Malay, Chinese, Indian, and indigenous, this was Malaysia at its mixed, tolerant, easygoing best.

Merdeka (Independence) Square blocked off.

Merdeka (Independence) Square blocked off.

The original aim of the rally was to hold a sit-in at Merdeka Square, but it was sealed off with barricades and razor wire. Instead, demonstrators surrounded the square, turning the streets of central KL into a massive sit-down protest.

Turning the streets into a massive sit-down protest.

If in doubt, sit down.

Facing off with the protesters were several thousand police, seemingly prepared for a war zone rather than a peaceful pro-democracy demonstration.

All prepared for a peaceful rally?

All prepared for a peaceful rally?

When police started pulling back at around 15:00, it seemed that a confrontation would be avoided.

Last moments of calm before the storm.

Last moments of calm before the storm.

But within five minutes, all hell broke loose. A few hundred protesters ran through the barricades and were immediately greeted by water cannon (laced with toxic chemicals) and tear gas.

The crack-down begins.

The crackdown begins.

In seconds, what had been a peaceful, joyful occasion was replaced by fear and dismay. Everywhere you looked, people were running, trying to find any sort of respite from the tear gas.

Fear takes over.

Fear takes over.

Hundreds of protesters suffered sickness and injuries, as police went on the attack.

Medic helping sick protester.

Medic helping sick protester.

I witnessed three lone demonstrators kicked and punched by groups of cops in the space of 10 minutes.

Protester trying to protect his head from further blows.

Protester trying to protect himself from further blows.

Sickeningly, they were cheered on by a contingent of riot police (pictured below).

The cops who cheered on beatings by fellow officers.

The cops who cheered on beatings by fellow officers.

When media such as Al Jazeera tried to film or take pictures of the police violence, they were themselves attacked, and their equipment smashed. BBC and Al Jazeera news reports were censored.

Riot police assault stopped by traffic ... only in KL.

Riot police assault stopped by traffic ... only in KL.

Three hours after the violence erupted, riot police were still firing water cannons and tear gas, even though the protesters had long since fled the area around Merdeka Square.

The crushed hopes for a peaceful pro-democracy rally.

The crushed hopes for a peaceful pro-democracy rally.

In a perverse twist, the authorities have blamed the Bersih 3.0 organisers for causing the violence. But anyone who witnessed the day’s events and not in the pay of the government would be hard pushed to blame anything except a completely disproportionate police response. Watch this superb video to see how a day that began with so much hope ended up so sadly.

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One Response to “Photo essay: Bersih 3.0 in Kuala Lumpur” ...

  1. Daveon 30 Apr 2012 at 2:53 pm

    Great documentation of the day from start to finish. Nice work.

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