By all intents, purposes, and accounts, it has been said that the Bersih 4.0 rally which happened over the Merdeka weekend went smoothly with no incidents of violence or arrests. The abang and kakak polis were thanked and heaped quite a bit of praise on social media for the way they handled the rally:
And even Bersih 2.0 chairperson Maria Chin Abdullah noted that the event was “very peaceful,” and a “historic achievement“.
Oh, and the arrest of 116 people the night before the rally.
Yep, what many people may have forgotten or overlooked in the pre-Bersih excitement was that 116 people were arrested at an alternative/punk music gig in Ampang on Friday night – just hours before the rally took place. And not just that, the female detainees were allegedly mistreated:
You might be thinking that the title’s clickbait, cause, what does a raid on a concert have to do with Bersih, right? Especially when the venue, Rumah Api, is known for hosting activists and artists from the fringe (non-mainstream) community so sure all druggies and bohsia delinquent crowd right??!
Well, in order to get into the details, we had to speak to the people who were arrested to try and figure out what happened. While most of the people we contacted were willing to talk to us, some (especially the female detainees) preferred to relay their experiences through a spokesperson or under the condition of anonymity. Because it would be really confusing to refer to them as Anonymous1, Anonymous2, etc., we’ll be naming them after members of The Ramones instead.
- Ashraf (Real name) – Lawyer
- Haijan (Real name) – Lawyer
- Thilaga (Real name) – Human rights activist and researcher speaking for female detainees
- Johnny – Anonymous male detainee
- Joey – Anonymous male detainee
- Tommy – Anonymous male detainee
- Marky – Anonymous male detainee
- DeeDee – Anonymous female detainee
Also, there may be some discrepancies between our numbers and news reports since we’re following info given by our interviewees. And we’re focusing on the punk angle here due to context, but Rumah Api actually does a bunch of other stuff, including charities. BTW, “rumah api” means lighthouse, and not something like “burning house” or anything anarchistic like that, k?
So let’s start off with what the whole gig was about…
The gig’s tagline is “Party Tonight, Revolution Tomorrow“
So here’s a quick low-down of what happened…
On Friday, August 28th, a gig featuring local punk and screamo (according to the band descriptions) bands started as scheduled and the attendees were pretty much having a good time. However, at about 11:30pm, a bunch of cops with dogs and submachine guns came and raided the place:
“About 40 cops came and raided the place. As far as we know, they were Special Branch from Bukit Aman. They asked us to sit down, saying it was procedure…” – Johnny, male detainee, via phone interview with CILISOS.
It seemed to be a pretty well thought-out raid too, with Johnny adding that there were cops hiding in the bushes to ambush anyone who tried running away. Sure enough, those that tried making a run for it were am…bushed. Everyone at the event, from attendees to tech crew and owner were put into three police trucks and carted off to Ampang Jaya police station; leaving Rumah Api…. Pretty Vacant (+1 Sex Pistols reference for street cred).
Many of our interviewees stated that they weren’t overly concerned at this point, thinking it was a regular raid, and expected to be released after taking a pee test for drugs. Speaking of which, what do you think the results were?
Well, according to Haijan Omar, one of the lawyers working on the case:
“They all took pee tests and NONE that I know of tested positive.” – Haijan, lawyer, via phone interview with CILISOS
Those are better results than most mainstream nightclub raids, and it’s probably due to the fact that many of Rumah Api’s clientele are Straight edge – a subculture that refrains from smoking, alcohol, and other morally dubious activities. Maybe since the authorities have been so uptight over drug usage at raves, we should just look into organizing punk rock concerts instead since…. The Kids Are Alright (+1 The Who reference for old man cred)
However, the detainees realized something was wrong when they were not released and ended up spending the next three nights in jail. But for what reason?
Arrest tonight, give reasons tomorrow
Officially, all those arrested were investigated for unlawful assembly; with the venue owner and a friend being investigated under the Sedition Act. But this was only made known during the remand hearing on Saturday morning, close to 12 hours after the arrests – even lawyer Haijan said he was kept in the dark while the detainees who asked for reasons were told that the cops were “waiting for instructions from the top”.
So…. if it’s more than just a regular raid and the reasons only came later, then the 2.6 billion Ringgit question is: Why were they raided in the first place?
Plot twist: The Rumah Api detainees were totally uninvolved with Bersih 4.0. #clickbait #ihatecilisos
Here it is ugaiz, the answer to the Rumah Api-Bersih connection. The reason why this article isn’t clickbait. Just follow this train of thought:
- The gig is called “Party tonight, Revolution Tomorrow“
- The people were there to Party, Tonight
- The Bersih rally starts Tomorrow
- Some people see the Bersih rallies as some sort of Revolution to take over the government.
HOLYSHIZZ THESE PEOPLE ARE PLANNING TO TOPPLE THE GOVERNMENT!!!!!!
No seriously, that’s the most plausible reason that any of those we interviewed can come up with. It should be noted that there was nothing Bersih-related at the venue that night. No flyers, no banners, and according Johnny, people weren’t even talking about it.
“Tiada sesiapa yang pakai baju kuning pun. We were all in black.” – Marky, male detainee, via phone interview with CILISOS
To further strengthen this theory, Joey told us:
“A policeman said, “Why didn’t you make this show on Saturday, why on Friday night before Bersih?” ” – Joey, male detainee, via phone interview with CILISOS
It’s also noted that Deputy Home Minister Datuk Nur Jazlan had warned against an “anarchist” group who might provoke the police into using force against the rally participants. And punks are generally associated with Anarchy… in the UK (+2 Sex Pistols reference). This link is corroborated by our interviewees:
“They kept asking us who’s the leader of this “anarchist movement,” but if they did their research they would know that, hello, anarchists don’t even have leaders.” – DeeDee, female detainee, via phone interview with CILISOS.
“Mereka bertanya kami tentang “regimen anarki,” tapi ini memang tak wujud! Ini semua cerita sendiri…” – Marky, male detainee, via phone interview with CILISOS.
But at the end of the day, it all boiled down to coincidence – a gig that happened to use the wrong title at the wrong time:
“The title of the gig is inspired from a song called Dance Tonight! Revolution Tomorrow! by Orchid. Titles can be very subjective, but the concept isn’t to provoke or menghasut anyone. A revolution can also be a personal [internal] one.” – Joey, via phone interview with CILISOS.
But it’s what happened to those who were arrested due to this coincidence that this story turns potato.
Party Tonight, Kena Lokap TomorrowDespite our attempts at humor, what the detainees went through was less than amusing. The male detainees we interviewed said that in general, their experience was decent (decent for jail, that is) except one who said that his religious requests were ignored:
“Semasa ditahan, saya berseluar pendek, lalu saya cuba meminta kain untuk menutup aurat saya supaya membolehkan saya solat. Malangnya pegawai bertugas tidak memberi saya apa-apa untuk saya solat. I think it violated my rights.” – Tommy, male detainee, via phone interview with CILISOS.
But it was the 13 detained women who got the shorter end of the stick:
Speaking on behalf of the female detainees, Thilaga tells us that the condition of the cells at Pandan Indah station was “terrible,” with overflowing sewage pipes and no access to medication and water. This was especially bad for two women in the group with asthma – one of whom is two months pregnant. They were also shamed and insulted, with the guards responding to their requests or questions with “You should have known better” or “Who asked you to go?”.
Some were also asked to lift their shirts and perform squats, and the 8 who were on their periods were only given 3 sanitary pads a day, to be changed after meals, and in front of a female officer. Thilaga says that a lot of items given by family members weren’t passed to the women, especially panties… and we’re told that clean underwear is especially important during periods (Sorry, male writer here. Cannot personally verify). The women also had to borrow stuff like soap and shampoo from the existing inmates.
Most the detainees were released without charge on Monday, except for two foreigners – one of whom was released a day later. Rumah Api’s owner and another friend are still under investigation for sedition.
Released today, solidarity forever
There are a few silver linings to this story, which might give you brain farts if you still see them as this:
For one thing, about 20 of the released detainees decided to return to the Ampang Jaya station to stand in solidarity with the two detained foreigners until both were released. We’re happy to note that the last remaining detainee, an Indonesian national, was released on Wednesday.
Also, Thilaga tells us that the women had bought supplies for the female inmates at Pandan Indah station after experiencing first-hand the conditions they were living in. They’ve also highlighted how the conditions for a lot of the existing detainees (mostly migrant workers) was worse:
“Some of the people who were already there said that they were happy to see us because now they can get good meals. Their meals have no vegetables, kuah, fruit, whatever. They had problems passing motion because of this. They said “If you guys didn’t come, we won’t have kuah on our rice.” ” – DeeDee, female detainee, via phone interview with CILISOS
We also got some anecdotes about how the police work, from not knowing how to properly type:
“The way [the police] work is so slow. The statements could have finished early if they can type fast, but they taip dengan dua jari!” – Marky
To not knowing what to do with pee samples:
“Police did their job but sangat lembab. FYI, they quarrel among themselves for such small things like where to throw the urine sample, etc.” – Tommy
To inappropriate flirting with some of the women who were there:
One of the special branch officers asked for my number. When I refused, he said “Oh tak nak berkawan dengan Abang Polis ke?”. I can’t even report him because he was in plainclothes.” – DeeDee
Why this story needs to be told
Thanks to the efforts of those who pushed f0r this story to be told – especially Kakiseni, if you can’t already tell from the Twitter screencaps – the experiences of the detainees can be at least given some due attention. Not just at the questionable legal conduct of the polis, but also to further highlight the treatment of detainees in our local jails.
On that note, IGP Khalid denied the sanitary pad incident happened; saying that there was “no such thing” and that the allegations were made to ruin the image of the police. Here’s DeeDee’s response:
“The IGP can deny all he wants, but he can’t shortchange our experiences. Please highlight the fact that we were detained unlawfully … for people to say that I’m lying, this is even worse.” – DeeDee.
As a bonus though, we hope that this would also help foster some understanding of fringe movements, that not all of them are into drugs, anarchy, and/or violence and those whom we interviewed to were well-spoken, decent people. We’ll let Rumah Api sum up their own stance:
And it also goes to show that no matter if you’re punk, politician, lawyer, or just a regular Malaysian; we’re all united by the fact that our law enforcement practices need some major reworking. So the next time you see someone with a studded jacket and weird hair walking down the street, don’t avoid them but give them a hug instead. After all, We’re a Happy Family (+1 Ramones reference to end article).