The Bar Council’s monitoring team of 13 lawyers comprised Edmund Bon, Amer
Hamzah Arshad, Haris Ibrahim, Ashok Kandiah, R. Ragunanthanan, M. Moganambal,
Renuka Balasubramaniam, Dara Waheda Mohd Rufin, Noreen Ahmad Ariff, Shamala
Balasundaram, GK Ganesan, Augustine Anthony and Saha Deva.
I. Initial Approach
At 8.15 am, Mogan was one of the first to arrive at the meeting place at Dang Wangi LRT station. While waiting for the other members of the team to arrive, a steady stream of supporters were walking orderly towards Jalan Ampang. They were coming from all directions including from the LRT station.
The team (save for GK Ganesan, Augustine Anthony and Saha Deva who were at KLCC) gathered at the Dang Wangi LRT station at around 8.30 am and proceeded to walk down Jalan Ampang towards KLCC. The crowd made way for us as we approached and cheers were heard. Some appealed to us for our help to speak to the police to stop discharging the tear gas at them. We continued to walk forward and the crowd kept following us closely.
As we arrived at the intersection of Jalan Ampang and Jalan Yap Kwan Seng at about 9.10 am, the Federal Reserve Unit (‘FRU’) fired water cannons and tear gas canisters in our direction. A helicopter was also hovering over us. We were hit and were choking and gasping for air. The smoke blinded our eyes temporarily and burnt our lungs and chest. The pain was unimaginable, and nobody should have to endure it. Our team got separated in the process. The crowd quickly retreated to escape the effects of the tear gas. Once the effects of the gas wore off, the crowd converged once more but this time stayed a distance.
The team retreated and decided to change our plans. We then proceeded down Jalan Ampang towards Jalan Yap Kwan Seng. Our approach to the British High Commission was hampered by the fact that we were followed by participants seemingly looking for some direction on what to do. We clarified time and again that we were merely observers from the Bar Council, that we were not associated with the rally and that they should consult their leaders. This had limited success. We then decided that we should not proceed any further towards the British High Commission if it meant being followed by a crowd as this could create a false impression that (i) the Bar Council supported the rally (ii) we were leading the rally or (iii) the Bar Council was associated with HINDRAF.
At this juncture, the team broke into two groups. Renuka and Mogan attempted to continue down Jalan Yap Kwan Seng towards the British High Commission while the rest were to take the Jalan Ampang route to the same destination in the hope of avoiding a crowd.
II. The Monitoring
Those on the monitoring team on Jalan Ampang were unable to proceed further than the Avenue K shopping complex as we were once again followed by a crowd. Convoys of FRU trucks lined the road in front of the complex. Tear gas canisters and water cannons were employed against the crowd without any apparent provocation.
At the intersection of Jalan Ampang and Yap Kwan Seng, Renuka heard shots and shouts in Tamil, “they're shooting something”. Then, white smoke was seen everywhere and a burning sensation in the throat and nostril. Renuka poured half a bottle of water over her face but it did not help. The gas had a suffocating effect. Renuka used salt offered by a participant to mix with water and rub over her eyes. It helped bring quick relief.
Renuka then found Mogan, in a similar predicament trying to find relief from the effects of the tear gas and walked towards Jalan Aman through Yap Kwan Seng. More tear gas was being shot into the sky from the intersection. Then the tear gas was shot down Jalan Yap Kwan Seng in our general direction. The crowd retreated a little but converged again. We also heard from the other demonstrators that the road ahead was blocked. There was no exit out of Jalan Yap Kwan Seng and we were trapped in between FRU and the tear gas. We proceeded into Mogan's office on the 11th floor of Megan Phileo Promenade. From there we were able to see crowds of people in front of KLCC and tear gas canisters being shot so frequently into the sky, they might have been pretty if they were fireworks. We saw the crowd retreat but did not disappear. The crowd continued to wait patiently despite the onslaught to coolly gather and move forward. It was interesting to witness the resilience of the group in the midst of a hot morning.
After half an hour, at about 10.50 am we came back down onto the street and watched a group move into a food court stall where a speech was going on. The speaker was unknown to our party and the speech was in Tamil. We then proceeded back towards the KLCC intersection and were permitted behind the police line by virtue of being lawyers. Some kids who said they were going to KLCC were also permitted through. A human chain of FRU personnel had made a circle around the intersection and some innocent bystanders found themselves trapped in the middle and afraid to go either way. We proceeded along Jalan Ampang until we re–grouped with the rest in front of Avenue K. As we passed Avenue K, we found that the doors of Avenue K were sealed and police officers, both male and female, were peering through the glass doors. Our eyes and nostrils were smarting due to the chemically laced water which was till evident on the street. Mogan used her small towel to cover her mouth and nose.
A police officer watching us talk to thee or four demonstrators came by to suggest that we slowly move along in twos as the water cannons are coming down the road. The demonstrators left and we began the walk down Jalan Ampang.
The monitoring team regrouped in front of Avenue K at around 11.20 am. Unable to proceed further, we decided to head back towards Wisma Selangor Dredging. Many ladies walked up to Mogan and complained about the use of tear gas and water. They could not understand why such violence was being used when all they wanted to do was to deliver a memorandum.
In the meantime, while the team was waiting near Public Bank, we saw the FRU refill their truck with water from the fire hydrant. This gave some time for the crowd and the FRU to take a much needed rest. Mogan and Dara were standing near the FRU truck and could see that the FRU personnel really looked very exhausted. Mogan noted one young Indian man walking up to a police officer and asking him, “Abang, itu memorandum sudah bagi tak?” The officer did not answer.
At around 11.40 am, we received word that HINDRAF leaders had told the gathering to disperse. From a distance, we observed some sort of activity (possible a speech) being given somewhere near Wisma Selangor Dredging and people slowly moving away from the area. Shortly thereafter however, the FRU proceeded to employ tear gas and water cannons at the crowd standing around in front of Wisma Selangor Dredging. We observed this being done twice within a short span of time. We too had to take cover from this onslaught and ran into the building to seek refuge. Not much help though, and we suffered the effects of the gas and chemicals in the water.
There was also a violent display of authority by the leader of the water cannon truck. He issued a warning that was garbled due to the poor quality on his loud hailer's sound. Then the cannons were fired and when people re–converged he screamed orders "Tangkap dia" repeatedly while pointing a demonstrator presumably to make an example out of him.
The crowd began to disperse from around 1.00 pm to 1.30 pm and we left the area, meeting to share our thoughts.
IV. General Observations on the Rally
The crowd of thousands was peaceful. Minor incidents of retaliation involving individual action were observed only when the FRU employed tear gas and water cannons against the crowd. In each instance, the crowd simply retreated and converged again peacefully once the effects of the chemicals had worn of.
Slogans were chanted and some participants carried banners and pictures of Gandhi. We did not hear the crowd taunting the police or any derogatory or racist slogans being chanted.
The team would note that better organisation would have averted much of the confusion. There were no identifiable marshals and information was not effectively disseminated by the organisers to the participants. This understandably led to many unconfirmed and conflicting rumours being spread. It also resulted in the participants waiting around without a sense of direction and not knowing how to react to the FRU’s actions in preventing them from reaching the British High Commission. We were approached several times for information and directions on what to do. On these occasions, we simply explained our status as observers and advised them to consult other sources.
While organisation should have been better to ensure the safety of the participants, the use of tear gas and water cannons by the police was unwarranted in the circumstances. As indicated, we did not observe acts of provocation which warranted the FRU’s actions. In several instances, firing of tear gas and water cannons was not preceded by a warning. Where verbal warnings were given, insufficient time was given for the participants to react to the warning.
The demeanour of the crowd suggests that the HINDRAF rally was a very peaceful one. HINDRAF should have been allowed to submit its memorandum as planned and the organisers then told to disperse the participants. The requirement of a permit for the rally, the denial of the permit, the arrest of HINDRAF’s key leaders prior to the rally, the Court order restraining the rally, the heavy presence of FRU personnel, the FRU’s unjustified use of tear gas and water cannons – these and other elements combined to escalate a simple expression of freedom of assembly into a conflict.
V. Account of Haris Ibrahim
7.28am – got an sms that ’10s of thousands r already at klcc. Tear gas n water cannon shot at them’.
7.39am – got an sms that ‘klcc n ampang park lrt r closed. Meet at d wangi at 8.30am’.
As I headed to Dang Wangi LRT, encountered a steady stream of people making their way along Jalan Ampang headed for the British Embassy.
Whilst waiting for the team got the following smses from other team of lawyers who had already made their way to KLCC – Ganesan, Augustine and Saha.
8.31am – Massive crowds are gathering at KLCC from different places. Cheers going up everywhere every few seconds as new groups arrive. crowd easily at 10,000. Fired tear gas earlier at abt 0700. SB watching us. Tension mounts.
8.47am – FRU form up, ready to move in. 0845hrs crowds still streaming into KLCC. More than 10,000 unsure how much more. Water cannons being readied. Warning issued to disperse otherwise poilce say ‘kami akan gunakan kekerasan’. Water cannons moves in violently water sprayed. Crowds defiant.
8.49am – Water sprayed. Cry of defiance goes up. FRU form up. Crowds throw canisters back at police. Canisters fired from 2 directions. People take assault and stand firm.
By now, the team is assembled and a decision is taken to head in the direction of KLCC to assess the situation before any decision can be taken about deployment.
As we walked, more smses come in from the team at KLCC.
8.56am – FRU fire tear gas. Again and again in different directions. Crowd of 15,000 watches from across Angkasa Raya.
The team reached the first crowd somewhere near Saloma’s restaurant.
There is a roar and applause all–round when they realise that
the Bar team had arrived.
These people complained about the gas.
More smses from the lawyers at KLCC.
9.03am – Crowds defiant. Winds shifts. Gas drifts towards police. Crowds disperse and re–form. Again and again. Helicopter flies low. We are troubled by teargas. Crowds move away from police but wait at edges
9.12am – Pictures of Gandhi displayed by crowds. Chants of ‘long live HINDRAF’. Crowds just swirls around police. Stand–off. Banners say ‘we are malaysians, we want our rights’. People are chanting and clapping, but otherwise FRU and crowds are so far non–violent.
9.16am – Banners read: ‘queen of england, symbol of justice, we still have hope on u’. Water cannon fired again. Crowds standing, not retreating. People are actually walking into the water cannon. Amazing.
We decided to move forward, but encountered a problem, which, it would turn out, would recur right through and proved to be an obstacle to our work.
Everytime we moved forward to head towards KLCC, the crowd would move along with us. Thank God Ashok was with us. Explained to them that they could not follow us, or it would appear as if we were leading them. Explained that we were there to monitor and observe and were not part of the rally.
The crowd appeared to be in disarray. They seemed to be at a loss as to how to move forward. The team members felt that there appeared to be a lack of leadership within the ranks.
9.24am – Crowd with hailers request police not to shoot them. That they are here to ask for their rights only. Police continue to rain down teargas. People are trying to show to police, by their body language that they mean no harm. Stand–off again.
Finally, someone managed to explain to the crowd and we were able to make our way and reach the junction leading into Jalan Yap Kwan Seng.
Now we saw for ourselves the water cannons being fired.
9.33am – Crowds move in towards police, chanting ‘HINDRAF aman’. FRU and police watch impassively. Siren sounds. Water cannons and tear gas fired again. Crowds plead thru hailer “kita damai..don’t hit us..after we will disperse”.
A canister misses Ashok and another misses me.
Damn, they are firing laterally.
The smoke is overwhelming.
3 young men help me over a railing to try and get behind the police line.
Another round of canisters fired.
The smoke is simply unbearable.
Retreat back toward the traffic lights at the junction with Jalan Yap Kwan Seng.
9.38am – Helicopter continues to hover. Water cannons fired again. Crowds have not dispersed
Eyes smarting, throat burning, we re–group and decide to try to get to Jalan Tun Razak through Jalan Yap Kwan Seng.
Same problem again. The crowds are following us.
Explain to the crowd again that they cannot follow us. Decide to let them go ahead. Notice that there seems to be a lull back at KLCC. Decide to backtrack, get back on to Jalan Ampang behind the police line and try to walk from there to the embassy.
10.10am – A man holding a white flag wearing a Gandhi photo waves at the police. Has been there for an hour. There’s a large banner being held up “kami aman”. FRU moves against crowd. Throw canisters at crowd, crowd throw it back.
We are back on Jalan Ampang behind the police line.
Water cannon fired again.
10.24am – Water cannon fired. FRU issues order to ‘standby’. Tear gas canisters are thrown back at police.
10.25am – Actually saw police firing gas canisters directly into the crowd. That was unnecessary and dangerous. FRU men physically threaten some peaceful onlookers.
We start to walk in the direction of the embassy. People on the other side of the road are getting into a bit of frenzy and making their way to join us. FRU getting agitated with us.
Water cannon truck comes in and fires.
It turns out that some of the people thought we were part of the ‘rombongan’ to hand the petition to the embassy.
We decide that to attempt to move further would risk another confrontation between the FRU and the crowd. We decide to stay put where we were, which was across from Wisma Central.
Between us and Ampang Park, you could still see a large crowd.
From hereon, it was a lot of waiting and waiting.
Edmund gets a call to say head back to the Pakistan embassy. Word is that the petition is to be handed over there now.
At about 11.40 am, someone gave the announcement to disperse.
They did, and peacefully.
I saw some very determined Malaysians out there this morning.
Was the use of water cannons and tear gas warranted?
It was unnecessary and most excessive, in my view.
VI. Account of Augustine Anthony, GK Ganesan and Saha Deva (as documented by Augustine)
24th November 2007
Reached KL toll plaza from Ipoh sporadic checks on some cars. The owners of all cars screened were Indians. From toll booth to Masjid Negara (6.30 pm), road is peaceful and calm. No road blocks. Caucasian tourists snapping pictures at Masjid Negara.
6.50 pm – Jalan Pahang road block – usual screening.
8.00 – 9.00 pm – GK, his wife and myself surveyed the area around KLCC. Some road blocks but traffic was smooth. Access to KLCC car park unhindered.
25th November 2007
0715 – Circling KL to reach KLCC. Road blocks everywhere at KLCC. But managed to slip into one lone road leading to KLCC car park. Many Indians seen emerging from KLCC car park to join in the march. Some with clenched fist in the air shouting ‘Victory!’
0720 – Spoke to Amer through hand phone alerting KLCC LRT service shut down and no service.
0730 – KLCC City Square. Police road block all round City Square. Many Indians, female and male bare footed and in devotee attire (veshti and saree).
Renuka SMS 25.11.2007 07.38.39 (forward MSG from GK)
“KLCC n ampang park lrt closed. Meet at D wangi at 8.30”
(Augustine and GK trapped at KLCC unable to join the rest of the BC monitoring team – decided to stay put and go with the flow at KLCC and cover the events there.)
0750 – A crowd numbering 3000 at KLCC Petronas entrance. Police friendly towards us, once identified as Bar Council observers.
0800 – At Suria KLCC, a crowd numbering 100 surrounded us and complained that they were hit by lateral tear gas canisters. One of them (Periasamy) and his wife (Mariayee) shot in the ankle, with swollen ankle, sitting unable to move and without aid. One unidentified man screaming tearfully that they were shot with waves of tear gas canisters at around KLCC Convention Centre at about 0650. Related how the crowd ran helter–skelter to save themselves and broke open the aluminium gate of the car park to gain access to the car park for protection. Many broken 6 feet potted plants. Fresh blood on the floor.
0825 – Crowd swells with people coming from different directions, mainly from Suria KLCC Centre towards Petronas entrance. Police and FRU were not blocking or charging on large crowd that was moving from Suria KLCC towards Petronas entrance.
0820 – KLCC surrounded by 4000 to 5000 supporters all seem lost, scattered, clapping, some show evidence of injury. KLCC equipment damaged when crowd tried to flee earlier.
0830 – Massive crowds are gathering at KLCC from different places. Cheers going up everywhere every few seconds as new groups arrive. Crowd easily at 10,000. Occasional chanting. People are peaceful but in high spirits. Air of expectations. FRU maintaining menacing presence. Fired tear gas earlier at about 7 am. Plain clothes policemen watching us. Tension mounts.
0835 – Crowd swells to about 8,000 to 10,000
0847 – Water sprayed – cry of defiance goes up. FRU form up. Crowd throws canister at police (FRU). Tear gas canisters fired from 2 directions. People take assault and stand firm. FRU form up on stand by ready to move in.
0845 – Crowds still streaming into KLCC. More than 10,000 unsure of the exact number. Water cannon being readied. Warning issued to disperse (“Bersurai! Bersurai!”). Otherwise police say “Kami akan menggunakan kekerasan”. Water canon FRU truck moves in violently. Water sprayed. Crowds defiant.
0850 – FRU fire tear gas again and again in different directions. Crowd of approximately 15,000 watches from across Angkasaraya.
0900 – Crowd defiant. Wind shifts and gas drifts towards police. Crowds disperse and regroup again and again. Helicopter hovers very low. We are troubled by tear gas. Crowd disperse and regroup. Crowd move away from police but wait at edges.
0915 – Pictures of Gandhi displayed by crowds. Probably emphasising non–violence. Chants of ‘long live HINDRAF’ Crowds swirl round police. Stand off. Banners say ‘We are Malaysians, We want our rights’ People (Marchers) are chanting but otherwise both FRU and crowds are so far non violent.
0912 – Banners with Queen Elizabeth’s photo reads ‘Queen of England – symbol of Justice. We still have hope on you’ Water cannon fired again. Crowds standing, not retreating. People are actually walking into the water cannon.
0920 – Crowd with hailers request police not to shoot them. (“Jangan tembak, jangan tembak, Kami aman”) They say they are here to ask for their rights only. Police continue to rain down tear gas. People are trying to show to police by their body language they mean no harm. Stand off again.
0930 – Crowds move in towards Police chanting “HINDRAF aman”. FRU and police watch impassively. Sirens sound. FRU tear gas unit and water cannon take position. Water cannons and tear gas fired again. FRU take position. Crowd plead through hailer, “Kita Damai, Jangan tembak. After (inaudible) our work is done we will disperse.”
0935 – Helicopter continues to hover. Water cannons fired again. Crowds have not dispersed. Defiant but peaceful. A man holding a white flag wearing a Gandhi photo around his neck waves at the police standing there for about an hour. Large banner held up “Kami aman”. FRU moves against crowd. Throw canisters at the crowd. Crowd throws it back at the FRU.
0943 – Water cannons fired. FRU issues order to stand by. Tear gas canisters are thrown back at police
1012 to 1020 – At KLCC Police firing tear gas canisters directly into crowd. This was unnecessary and dangerous. FRU men threaten some peaceful on–lookers who were standing in the way.
1030 – Yet again FRU getting ready to baton charge at crowd.
1030 to 1100 – Crowd disperse away from KLCC Petronas entrance in three directions but were moving away from the road leading to Jalan Ampang.
About 1100 – GK’s Nokia E–90 communicator battery went flat. At the same time the crowd was dispersing away from KLCC Petronas entrance. We rushed into KLCC shopping complex to recharge the battery and to buy a new battery. Business as usual inside KLCC but the crowd was not the usual Sunday crowd. Crowd very small and scattered. Rested till about 11.45 while waiting for battery to be recharged and with extra new battery, came out and headed to Jalan Ampang intent on reaching British High Commission to survey the area.
1200 – Crowds of marchers on both sides of Jalan Ampang, some sitting by the road, some standing, some walking. Heavy presence of FRU and various other uniformed police. There were many carrying cameras but didn’t give us the impression they were press photographers. Kept taking pictures of us. As we walked towards the British High Commission, the FRU repeatedly fired tear gas and water cannons at marchers gathered at Jalan Ampang. A few arrests made by police. Crowd tried to pull their arrested friend from police. Some skirmishes spotted between police and crowd. Police enquired if we were one of the leaders of the marchers. More photo snaps of us taken. We maintained we were observers from Bar Council. One man was carrying a large camera, pretending to be a press man but not looking like a press man, asked us Bar Council’s address. Photo shots all around. Many reporters started asking us about what was going to happen about the memorandum. Our answer was “no comment, we are just observing”
1230 – British High Commission. Saha Deva, Balanaidu have joined us about 100 m away. Apart from the questions from the police, they were generally friendly towards us as we identified ourselves as Bar Council observers.
1235 – Received call that we were needed at various Police Stations to assist the detainees. Walked towards Saha’s car near Pakistan embassy about 1 km from the British High Commission. Al–Jazeera stopped us. GK made brief general comments
1335 – Saha, GK and myself at Pulapol to seek access to the detainees taken in. Spoke to Kpl Zulkifli (No 111555) manning the Guard House. Asked us to go to Dang Wangi police station because no superiors who can give orders for the release of the detainees. In the mean time, police trucks carrying detainees were seen entering Pulapol.
Thereafter, after circling around Dang Wangi police station (which is under construction) we were sent to IPK Tun HS Lee where we spoke to Police Officer Yati (No 141900) After conferring with several police officers, we were advised to go to Cheras because the British High Commission is under the jurisdiction of the Cheras Police Station.
1450 – At the Cheras police station. Met Kpl Ramli (No 73305) to enquire about the detainees. After making a few calls, refered us to ASP Sazalee. Met ASP Sazalee. In the meantime, Claudia and one or two Al Jazeera correspondents who were engaged in telephone conversion with GK and Saha enquired about the fate of the detainees. Tired and frustrated, GK acting as the spokesperson gave an ultimatum to ASP Sazalee to either stop giving us the run around and allow us to see the detainees or we have no choice but to go to Al Jazeera who have been waiting to get news on the state of the detainees. We were made to wait outside his office room while he made a few calls. He then called us in and said that he has spoken to Ground Commander SAC II Khoo and informed us that lawyers who are waiting at the entrance to Pulapol are now being allowed to enter and negotiate. Amer Hamzah’s name was specifically mentioned as the lawyer allowed to go in to negotiate the release of the detainees. Called Amer to confirm and to make sure we were not given the run around. But no answer from Amer. Called Stephanie of KL Bar Legal Aid and she confirms that Amer has gained access into Pulapol.
1600 – Went back to Pulapol by which time a large crowd has gathered there. Amer, Lateefah, Suren, and many other lawyers were seen trying to negotiate the return of the detainees. After confirmation from Amer that the situation was under control, Augustine wanted to go back to Ipoh.
Overall the marchers were in high spirits, not violent with some only throwing back tear gas canisters at the FRU to save themselves. Marchers were let down by rally organisers without ground leaders. Clueless as to the manner in which they should proceed with the march. Looked up to us as lawyers for leadership for they kept milling around us for direction. All we could tell them is that we are observers from the Bar Council and not part of HINDRAF thus we cannot participate in the march or lead them.
The black and white chamber attire was excellent protection for us in an otherwise very exposed, chaotic and tensed situation.