Today's launch of polls watchdog coalition Bersih’s ‘yellow day’ was marred by what one Bersih leader described as police harassment in order to disrupt their campaign for clean and free elections.
Several Bersih leaders, including DAP leader Ronnie Liu and PKR leaders N Subramaniam and Faisal Mustaffa, had just begun distributing balloons and pamphlets to pedestrians and commuters in front of the KL Central monorail station in Brickfields.
Reading from a prepared statement, Liu called on the public to wear “something yellow” every Saturday as a statement of support for electoral reform and to send a message to the government for clean and free and elections.
“Wear a yellow ribbon on your shirt! Wear a yellow necktie or scarf! Use a yellow umbrella! Tie a yellow ribbon on your car’s antenna or side mirrors! Tie a ribbon on your bike! Wear a yellow armband! Better yet, wear your Bersih t-shirt!
“Our voices must be heard. Our message must get across. Our rights must be restored!” said Liu when the launch started at 2:30pm a few feet away from PKR’s information office.
Pamphlets, balloons seized
The upbeat mood of the activists, however, took a downturn 15 minutes after they started their distribution campaign when several police officers from the Brickfields district police station appeared and ordered them to surrender their identification cards (IC).
Leading the operation, district ant-vice division chief Kamaruddin Yusof initially told Liu and the others that they were suspected of violating the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984.
About 50 copies of Bersih pamphlets - and 20 of Bersih’s yellow balloons - were seized.
Kamaruddin refused to say, however, what offence had been committed exactly or the relevant section that had been infringed.
“You cannot just tell me we’ve done something wrong under the Presses Act. You have to tell me what we’ve done exactly,” said Liu.
“Don’t argue with me. Not here. I’m not going to argue with you. Whatever you want to say, say it at the police station,” Kamaruddin responsed.
Several minutes later, Kamaruddin also said the Bersih activists were disturbing public order as "we have observed that you have been creating public disorder here.”
Also present with him was district public order division head Mohd Khalid Adun.
Kamaruddin told Liu and several others that their ICs were needed to record their particulars. A vehicle was called to take them to the district police station.
'Orders from above'
The 15-minute wait for the police vehicle in the hot sun, however, seemed to to mellow the initially rigid stance of Kamaruddin and other police officers.
“You don’t have to come to the police station. You can have back your ICs. You’re free to go,” said Kamaruddin before ordering the documents to be returned to their owners.
“I have orders from above, lah,” Kamaruddin told reporters when asked what the whole affair was about.
Speaking to Malaysiakini later, Liu said the episode was a clear example of harassment by the authorities in order to disrupt Bersih’s public education and awareness campaign.
It will not, however, dissuade the coalition from continuing with its efforts.
“We will continue the campaign. We still want the people to know about the Bersih campaign and to wear something yellow every Saturday,” said Liu.
Bersih - made up of 67 NGOs and five political parties - has taken the royal colour of yellow to beseech the King’s hand in calling for electoral reform.
Last Saturday, they held a rally and march to the national palace to submit a memorandum to the King’s representative.