KUALA LUMPUR, July 11 — Quiet has settled over Saturday’s chaos but one image is still making waves on the Internet — the picture of an elderly woman in yellow, drenched in rain and chemical-laced water, walking away from riot police while clutching on to a long-stemmed flower and a near-empty mineral water bottle.
She is Annie Ooi, a 65-year-old retired English teacher who took a
bus from Setapak in the early morning of July 9 to join thousands of
others in Bersih 2.0’s march for free and fair elections. An unknown man
had offered her the flower in the morning and she waved it like a flag
throughout the four-hour march.
Netizens have dubbed her “Aunty Bersih”, and even Malaysia’s “Lady of
Liberty”, for placing her health and safety at risk to join a march the
government had declared illegal.
Pictures of the diminutive Ooi strolling in the war zone that Kuala
Lumpur had turned into are all over the Internet, inviting messages of
awe and wonderment from netizens across the country.
On Facebook, at least three fan pages were set up in dedication to Ooi immediately after the event. One page called “Malaysian Lady of Liberty” attracted 17,176 “likes” as of 9am this morning.
Ooi was one of the few who dared to turn up in yellow to mark the
occasion, despite earlier warnings that those with clothes indicating
support for the outlawed Bersih 2.0 coalition would be arrested.
Speaking to The Malaysian Insider through her daughter over Facebook
chat last night, Ooi confirmed that she had been tear gassed four times
and sprayed with the water cannon once during Saturday’s pandemonium.
She said she was unsure of what time the rally was scheduled to start
or where, but was determined to support its cause by participating in
it even if she had to do it alone.
“She took the bus to General Hospital because the roads into town
were blocked,” her daughter related. “She walked to Chow Kit, Maju
Junction, went into the back lane of Little India to pass Masjid Jamek,
avoiding cops, heading to National Mosque but was stopped at Dayabumi.”
There, Ooi was interviewed by one uniformed policeman and four others
in plainclothes. They asked for her IC and recorded her details, then
asked her why she was dressed in yellow. “Why can’t I wear yellow?” she
asked in return.
According to a post by a blogger who claimed to have spoken to Ooi
before the march began, the feisty retiree had asked other protesters
why they did not turn up in yellow as well. “Why do we have to feel so
scared in our own home land . . . and by own countrymen,” she had
A newbie at street protests, Ooi also did not know what to do in the
event that she got gassed, and had not brought anything to protect
herself, her daughter said.
“She wasn’t prepared for any of the attacks,” her daughter said. “She
went without protection; no goggles, no masks, no salt, nothing. It was
horrible . . . the coughing, and didn’t know how to stop the discomfort
and pain. After the second gassing, she was offered salt by someone and
it helped a lot.”
Despite this, eyewitnesses claimed on the internet that Ooi had marched
on determinedly during the protest and despite the chaos, even yelled at
others not to run.
When told to ask her mother if she would dare
to brave another march for the same cause, her daughter said, quoting
Ooi, “Without a doubt”.
“There was a very strong oneness in spirit which she had never felt
before in this country,” added the daughter again quoting Ooi.
“Especially from the younger generation which have their years ahead of
them yet marched on despite the possibility of ruining their lives by
Ooi was among the thousands of protesters who took to the streets of
Kuala Lumpur on Saturday to march in support of Bersih 2.0’s demand for
More than a thousand people were arrested, and chaos broke out at
midday after the police fired tear gas canisters and sprayed water
cannons to break up the crowd.