Sunday, September 6, 2009

Hindraf's candle light vigil 5/9/09 - what I observed

Map of Dataran Merdeka and its environs

As I crossed Jalan Kinabalu to get to Dataran Merdeka, it was 6 pm. In front of St. Mary's church (A on the map), I could see police officers walking towards Jalan Raja, adjusting their uniforms and berets. Ahead, there was a police "balai bergerak", and a van. An assortment of uniformed officers stood by, while about 25 - 30 people dressed in plain clothes milled about.

There were a few tourists and photographers along Jalan Raja, but nowhere near it's usual Saturday evening crowd. A group of press photographers were there too; I heard them joke that they would outnumber the protesters.

Media photographers. Anyone else?

The police began to place metal barricades at the entrances to Jalan Raja in front of Dataran Merdeka. Traffic policemen on their big bikes rode to and fro. At one corner of Dataran Merdeka (B), the people in plainclothes formed into rows, and a uniformed officer spoke to them.


At about 6.20 pm, officers approached the people along Jalan Raja, and asked them to leave the area. The reason given was that the police had declared the area a "restricted area", and that they were about to begin "operations" there. I did not see any notices or signs to that effect anywhere.

As I made my way out across the barricade, I noticed that the officers manning it diverted all motor and pedestrian traffic away.

The barricade

Interestingly, there were a number of scruffy looking people scattered about the area. One could easily have taken them for Dataran Merdeka groundskeepers or similar, until one noticed the walkie-talkies they were carrying.

The entry onto the flag platform (C) from the Selangor Club was not barricaded. As I walked onto the area, at 7 pm, I saw that some who had come to attend the vigil were already there. They were waiting for the vigil to start.

At about 7.15 pm, two uniformed policewomen approached some of the people there and (it seemed to me) politely asked them to leave the area. The people there did not leave. Later, someone said that the main group of Hindraf vigillers were on their way from Jalan Tun Perak. We waited for them to appear.

Two policewomen asking people to leave

At 7.45 pm, I noticed that there were lots of blue flashing lights at the junction of Jalan Tun Perak and Jalan Raja (D). At 8 pm a siren sounded, and someone said that the vigillers had been arrested. I followed a small group that made its way across the field and towards the flashing lights at the Jln. Tun Perak junction. There, I saw a police lorry and a van with lots of police milling around, including ones in riot gear.

The van

Press photographers were snapping away at the vehicles, but I was unable to make out who was in it. Both vehicles left soon after.

The lorry leaving

At about 8.15 pm, someone said that the remaining members of the Hindraf vigillers were near the Masjid Jamek LRT station (E), and we walked there. On the way, I saw the trampled remains of roses, and candles, on the sidewalk.

"Weapons" of mass liberation

The Hindraf folk were standing together on the sidewalk, talking in hushed tones. They were calm, but their concern for their arrested colleagues was clear. They related how some of them were arrested even as they were walking away from the police, trying to comply with the order to disperse. I heard some of them try to account for those who had been arrested. Standing in the station and observing the group, were two gentlemen in plainclothes, each with a small bag slung across his shoulder.

A few of them still had some candles left, which they lit as they stood together silently on the sidewalk. As I took a photograph, one of them said something barely audible. Translated it meant "what a cruel country".

Are we a cruel country?

Suddenly, someone said that there were police officers on the way to arrest more people. The small group dispersed, leaving only a few behind. I saw a group of approximately 5 uniformed officers walking towards us from Jalan Raja. Some of them stationed themselves at the sidewalk, while the others seemed to be looking for the vigillers along the riverbank opposite the Masjid Jamek (F).

Back at the LRT station, I noticed 2 women vigillers standing at the corner, busy with their cellphone, with the uniformed officers standing not far away, and the plainclothes people still keeping watch from above.

That was the situation at the Masjid Jamek station when I left at 8.35 pm.

Please read these news reports here and here, see the video here, and read Hindraf's statement here. (UPDATED: Please also see photos taken by Hindraf here.)

Have we done right by our brothers?

Malaysian Heart

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