|Athi Veranggan | Dec 7, 08 7:00pm|
|The embattled Jerit cyclists continued to be besieged with more trouble, this time from unknown arsonists who torched their bicycles in Penanti, Penang early this morning.
At least eight bicycles were damaged, three severely, in the fire which was set by the arsonists at about 3am in Yayasan Aman building, located in mainland Penang.
The tired cyclists have put up the night in the building after traveling nearly 100km across Kedah and Penang when the bicycles were set on fire.
Fortunately a Jerit coordinator, Liew Shin Siong, 40, who was sleeping on the ground floor of the building, managed to douse the fire before it damaged all the bicycles.
He was awoken by a mild explosion, presumably from burning tyres.
While the cyclists were putting out the fire, they overheard a man’s voice shouting at them – ‘hidup atau mati, tak peduli’ (alive or death, don’t care) from a car, which was parked near the building.
They could not identify the man, who was accompanied by a number of others, as it was dark. They sped off immediately after.
A Jerit coordinator R Mohana Rani did not rule out that the arson could be politically motivated to sabotage their ‘Ride for Change’ campaign, which pedaled off from Alor Star on Dec 2.
“From the very beginning, we have been harassed by the police. We have been accused of organising an illegal bicycle procession and causing traffic jams,” she said.
Police have taken six damaged bicycles to assist in their investigation, but Mohana Rani is not confident that the probe will result in arrest.
Day 5 of 16-day tour
Today marks the fifth of the cyclists’ 16-day tour to Kuala Lumpur organised by grassroots coalition Jaringan Rakyat Tertindas (Jerit).
The rest of the team have decided to continue their journey and are now heading to Perak.
Yesterday, they handed over a copy of the memorandum to Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng in Georgetown, where a Jerit coordinator was manhandled by the police.
On Thursday – the second day of the leg – one of the cyclists was detained in Merbau Pulas, Kedah, and taken for questioning for a few hours in Kulim district police headquarters.
The lorry transporting their bicycles were also stopped at the Penang Bridge on the third day and escorted to the Bayan Lepas police station.
The bicycles were however returned to the cyclists after a few hours.
Some 50 cyclists, mostly teenage schoolchildren, kicked of the Jerit campaign from Alor Star last Tuesday while a southern team of 15 cyclists have begun their journey yesterday from Johor.
However, some were detained for questioning even before they started their journey, and Mohana Rani said the cyclists have been issued with police summonses in Kulai for not putting up safety reflectors on their bikes.
Despite constant police harassment, the cyclists are determined to reach the Parliament House as scheduled in 11 days, where both teams will converge to deliver a six-point memorandum to the Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim.
The ‘People – The force of change’ campaign is Jerit’s attempt to raise awareness on issues such as food shortages, environmental problems, draconian laws and the current financial crisis.