Speech by Malaysian Parliamentary Opposition Leader, Lim Kit Siang, to Parliament

October 26th, 1998

Testimony of Police Violence at Jln Tuanku Abdul Rahman 24/10/98 at 5 pm

This is one testimony of what happened at Jalan Tuaku Abdul Rahman on Saturday evening, which has been posted on the Internet:

"It was five o’clock in the evening, Saturday, October 24th, 1998…

"Rumours were flying that people were bringing kerosene and petrol bombs to the demonstrations this Saturday. Many felt that these rumours were started by people who wanted the police to crack down hard on the demonstrators and show no quarter. I didn’t want to take any chances either way. We made sure we didn’t carry any bags or anything that could be even suspected of containing incendiary material. We were, after all, not rioters - we just wanted to get my mother a pair of slippers from Jalan TAR!

"Our taxi took us past Dataran Merdeka, where there were trucks and water cannon at both ends. As we entered Jalan Raja Laut, we saw half a dozen trucks and yet another water cannon were parked in front of Dewan Bandaraya. We got off at the rear entrance of Pertama Kompleks and there were already a dozen police manning the entrance.

"When we emerged at the front entrance of Pertama Complex, we were met by huge crowd of shoppers. I say ‘shoppers’ because they were not angry young men - there were children, elderly men and women, families. No one was shouting, or chanting or singing. There were no banners or placards. People seemed to be just milling around, talking to each other, minding their own business…

"As we were pushing our way through the crowd, en route to Jalan TAR, we suddenly heard a resounding cheer of "Reformasi!" roared from the crowd…

"That shout was followed by a resounding ‘Allah Akbar!’ and the police swooped in. A dozen plainclothes policemen emerged from the crowd and two or three men were pulled out, handcuffed and dragged by their hair by plainclothes policemen. They were paraded in the middle of the road, in front of the crowd, as if the police were trying to make a point - they were going to get real tough today.

"The crowd became silent after that - but they were seething. As we pushed through the crowd, you could hear people swear under their breaths … ‘zalim’ .....

"A truck then arrived on the scene and someone read the Police Act over a loudhailer. This is an illegal assembly. RM 10,000 penalty. One-year jail. Disperse now.

"The crowd did disperse. A line of policemen moved forward and waved us away, down Jalan TAR. Another line of policemen directed us into a back alley, round to the Coliseum cinema and back to the main road. We crossed into the Masjid India area but this time all entrances were blocked with even more police than there were last week. Some officers even took the opportunity to do some shopping themselves in the Masjid India Saturday market.

"As we walked along these back alleys, we could hear sirens wailing nearby. It would sound for five or ten seconds, stop for a few minutes, then wail again. And each time it wailed, you could hear a deafening silence descend upon the packed market crowd. People would be stopped in their tracks, listening to the wailing, as if mesmerised. The air was thick with fear…

"We entered Jalan Campbell just minutes before it was blocked off as well. I surveyed the scene from under the huge billboard of the Odeon cinema and it was as though the whole area was in a state of curfew. Except for squads of heavily armed and armoured policemen, all four roads leading to the Odeon junction were blocked off and deserted. Passers-by were milling on the pavement not sure where to go - there were lines of police blocking every conceivable exit from the area.

"We heard shouts from the Pertama Complex area and saw at least two dozen policemen run towards the complex shouting obscenities. A number of them had a boy pinned against the wall and a squad of other policemen surrounded him. They were kicking him mercilessly.

"Moments later, we saw a man being dragged on the ground his feet by policemen at the other end of the junction, near the Campbell Complex. At first I thought he was unconscious, but then I heard loud moans of pain and saw his eyes were open. His face seemed swollen and blood was oozing out of his ears. He was being dragged by men in red ski masks, and they were surrounded by other men in plainclothes, but with red ribbons tied on their shirt sleeves. A uniformed police officer approached one of the men in ski masks and pointed to Pertama Complex. ‘Okay ... now go to that lot of people over there and ‘handle’ them.

"There were so many plainclothes officers lurking in the crowds, they probably needed the red ribbons for quick identification. There were stories that a number of plainclothes Special Branch officers had been beaten up by their own brother officers in last week’s demonstrations...

"Then another dozen or so policemen emerged out of nowhere from a nearby alley towards our little group. They growled at us ‘Jalan! Jalan! Apa tengok lagi? Bodoh!’, which they punctuated with curses, obscenities and swings of their batons to hurry us along. We complied and walked away towards Campbell Complex again. As we were walking, I detected a certain acidic whiff in the air …

"Turning around, I saw a red water cannon truck just 10 metres away shoot a thick plume of water into the air, like a geyser. The water rose into the air and started to descend in a thick blanket upon us.

"It was pandemonium. Almost immediately, everyone ran in every direction, in the wake of the acid rain. Within seconds, you could smell the choking fumes that burned your eyes and stung the skin. The road ahead was blocked by a thick wall of FRU personnel and, after seeing what had happened to the man who was dragged by his feet, we had no wish to be greeted by those guardians of the law. We sprinted into the Odeon cinema parking area towards Medan Tuanku. People were scrambling over cars trying to find the shortest distance between the water cannon and safety…

"We ran into a side road, and collapsed in exhaustion on the pavement in front of a popular North Indian restaurant in the area. There were hundreds of other people milling about. Many were wiping their arms and faces with cloth, trying to get the sting out of their skin. Most had handkerchiefs over their mouths and noses and I myself started coughing uncontrollably. Asthma and tear gas are not a good combination.

"A friend we met there said that he saw flyers with Anwar Ibrahim’s photograph being dropped from a nearby building. A passerby stopped and picked one up. Three plainclothes policemen very quickly descended upon him and started kicking and punching him. Another bystander approached them and pleaded for them to stop. They handcuffed the good Samaritan and he was herded into a truck.

"In the Medan MARA area, hundreds of people were trapped in a tunnel that was packed with men, women and children - many crying, shouting in panic, tending wounds they received as they fell to escape charging policemen. The air was thick with acidic fumes - and terror.

"One poor boy wanted to go into the Pertama Complex underground car park to retrieve his motorcycle. A uniformed police officer said police were searching the car park and no one was allowed in. He suggested the boy wait in the area for a while. No sooner had he walked away a few steps when the boy was suddenly kicked in the back by a laughing plainclothes policeman. The uniformed officer just looked on.

"An elderly lady passed by, soaked and weeping - I don’t know from fear or from tear gas. She was mumbling to herself. ‘I was only waiting for a bus. Why do this to an old woman who was only waiting for a bus.?’…

"Another water cannon truck was driving up Jalan TAR towards us and the crowd ran helter skelter again. A wave of people swept us further into Medan Tuanku and towards Kampong Baru. I fell over a motorcycle parked by the pavement as I was swept by the stampeded of terrified on-lookers.

"Every road and alley we turned to - columns of FRU and police were waiting in ambush. Tables and chairs were strewn all over the roads and pavements as panic-stricken diners abandoned their stalls and high tea in search for safety in the wake of the acid spray.

"It was already 6:30 by then. We had to leave for Petaling Jaya to be at the SUARAM Forum on abolishing the ISA. But we were under no illusion that the situation was back to normal. As our taxi to PJ passed by Jalan Campbell, we could still see hundreds of police closing off the roads, we could still hear sirens wailing, we could see groups of motor cyclists zipping past the traffic as though being pursued. I shuddered to think what else would unfold over the next few hours.

"At no point during the evening did I see any hint of violence from the crowd. No one shouted verbal abuse at the police. Traffic was not being obstructed and there was no damage to property. Only twice did the crowd cheer ‘Reformasi’ and ‘Allahu Akbar’ , followed by the occasional clapping. None of the flags, banners and placards of last week. For the most part, the thousands of people there just stood and stared at their would-be attackers. That was the extent of the demonstration.

"But it was clear that the police were not there to ensure the safety of people and property. They were not even there to stop protesters and pick them up. It was evident what their orders were - clear the streets completely, by whatever means, no matter who’s there - not one dissenter or even suspected dissenter must be left on the pavement. Peaceful or not, they were dissenters and had to be punished. For our country cannot abide with dissent.

"And, indeed, they did clear the streets - with brutal efficiency. The many incidents I saw did not indicate the police were being tough or even harsh - they were just plain cruel. But by sowing terror, they planted the seeds of anger and hatred. And they showed the world exactly why thousands of Malaysians have taken to the streets of Kuala Lumpur for six consecutive weeks."

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