Peaceful protesters marched with candles in downtown Kuala Lumpur to exercise their right to march peacefully. The Malaysian government sent in riot police and water cannons to exercise its right to intimidate peaceful protesters.
HINDRAF, the Hindu Rights Action Force, a political and cultural organization serving the sizable Indian community here, was one of the march’s participants. In November, HINDRAF had organized a rally that drew at least 10,000 (the number is disputed) Indians protesting the government’s Malay-first policies in education and government hiring, the destruction of temples, and the increasing anti-Indian chauvinism among the Malay. The protesters were met with batons, tear gas, and water cannons. Five of HINDRAF’s leaders were detained as terrorists under the Internal Security Act (with alleged links to the RSS and the LTTE). Some fifty more protesters were arrested. A few were released, while others will stand trial for various incitement and disorderly conduct charges.
Tonight’s candlelight procession was simply to remind the government that people have the right to assemble and to express their concerns legally and peacefully in public. The silent march occurred without incident and was effectively over, with only small groups of protesters lingering to talk after the streets had been reopened, when the riot police arrived. People who had left the area returned; photographers made their way back to the scene, and everyone knew what was coming, as in Chekhov’s famous dictum about not introducing a gun in a play unless you intend to fire it.
In the end, though, all of this was for show. There was almost no one left to disperse when the cannon came up. The real action came from the unarmed police in yellow vests who charged after the stragglers in an angry show of personal force. This was really the pointâ€”Malaysian riot police running down Indian protesters, breaking up the crowd, restoring order to an otherwise quiet night in the monsoon drizzle.
More photos below.All images by Preston Merchant
“If there is a gun hanging on the wall in the first act, it must fire in the last.”