The showdown at Low Yat Plaza early on yesterday that was sparked by a handphone theft has brought Malaysia’s fragile race relations to a new low. Below are the timeline of events that build up to the fiasco. This is an account by a member of Citizen Journalists Malaysia who was at the scene during the incident.
Saturday, July 11
Mobile phone salesman, See Ming Ho, 28, personally attended to the suspect who was accompanied by an accomplice. They entered the shop which was located on the Upper Ground floor of the Low Yat Plaza pretending to be interested in buying a Lenovo S860 phone valued at RM799.00. The 22-year-old suspect and his accomplice then fled away with the phone when the trader looked away briefly while he was taking free gifts which came along with the phone. That was when See shouted for help and staffs from the OPPO store, located at Ground floor gave the suspects a chase, running down the escalator before the main suspect stumbled and fell, subsequently leading to their apprehension by a group of men at the scene. The suspects were then handed over to the plaza’s security personnel, who later contacted the police for the arrest. A police Mobile Patrol Vehicle (MPV) arrived at the scene and both suspects were brought to the Tun H.S. Lee Police Station. A police report was then lodged by See at the same police station with regards to the incident. CCTV recordings of the alleged theft incident at See’s shop were handed over to the police for further investigations.
A group of seven men walked into the OPPO store inside Low Yat Plaza and started attacking mall staffs for apprehending their friend who was arrested for alleged theft of a mobile phone. Several staffs from the OPPO store were seen beaten up by the group, with an estimated RM70,000 in damage to the store goods and equipment resulting from the attack. At least one of the seven people was arrested, believed to be part of the group who rampaged into the OPPO store. The events then escalated almost immediately into an all-out social media frenzy with videos and photos of the fracas that went viral and circulated online via popular blogs, Facebook and Twitter, including popular mobile phone chat applications like WhatsApp and WeChat. Rumours spread like wildfire alleging how the commotion began. Some said the alleged shoplifter was cheated when buying a phone at the shop while others said that the alleged shoplifter had taken the phone from another shop from the upper floors and tried to flee with it. Along with the rumours, some parties took advantage of the situation by fueling racial issues and provocations.
Sunday, July 12
The rumours led to a group of some 100 men, claiming to represent several non-governmental organizations (NGO), to rally in front of the Low Yat Plaza. The group claimed that the protest was aimed at seeking justice for the arrested suspect due to “biased investigations” by the police.
The group tried to enter the plaza’s main entrance but their attempt was foiled when some 30 police officers, including some in plain-clothes managed to prevent them from entering the plaza and was eventually dispersed.
This led to an escalation, as a security measure the main entrance was cordoned off. A senior police officer tried to negotiate with the group by explaining the actual situation on Saturday’s incident but was to no avail.
Monday, July 13
A fight broke out between two groups in front of the plaza which lasted for some 40 minutes. Rioters were seen assaulting their victims using helmet and other objects. Some members of the media including a bar staff was reportedly injured in the incident.
At least five Federal Reserve Unit vehicles were seen rushing to the scene via Jalan Imbi, with police personnel deployment at several key locations to sweep the surrounding area and maintain public order. Several areas in the city were declared off-limits to the public by the police, particularly at some roads around Bukit Bintang and the Low Yat Plaza, which was under locked-down.
There was a heavy movement of crowd near the Berjaya Times Square on the opposite side of Amoda Building which was also quickly dispersed by the police Mobile Patrol Vehicle (MPV) and Mobile Patrol Units (URB). Several youths were initially arrested near a food outlet behind the Berjaya Times Square for failing to comply with police order to disperse. They were eventually released shortly after at the discretion of the arresting police officers with a warning with their personal particulars recorded.
The situation returned to normal.
There were reports of another incident of rioting at 4am along Jalan Imbi near the Pandan Roundabout where four men in a car were stopped by a group of thugs for taking their pictures. The situation then became intense where the mob started attacking the victims violently by smashing their car. A policeman was injured when he tried to stop one of the attackers who armed with a broken bottle. Several policemen attempted to control the crowd and rescue the victim by drawing their pistols which subsequently managed to mitigate the mob from continuously pursuing the victim. The situation was brought under control upon arrival of additional police back-up.
The overall situation was calm once again when majority of the crowd have already dispersed.
It was business as usual near the vicinity. However, most of the shops in Low Yat Plaza were closed as shop operators were still in shock over the incident that has taken place for two nights in a row and were afraid that it may recur.