16 get food poisoning at Bersih rally; organisers say contaminated drinks an 'act of sabotage'

The Bersih 4 rally on Aug 29, 2015.
The Bersih 4 rally on Aug 29, 2015. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Bersih 4 organisers raised suspicions on an alleged act of sabotage after 16 people suffered food poisoning on Saturday and Sunday after they apparently drank free fruit juice packets with puncture marks at the rally.

Bersih chairman Maria Chin Abdullah said its medical team spotted the drinks, which were distributed to supporters during Saturday's rally, as having needle holes on the packets.

The 13 people who suffered food poisoning on Saturday were said to have drank from the packets after they were given out for free by unknown individuals.

Bersih 4 medical team coordinator Tan Gengta said six of the 13, including two 10-year-old girls, had to be sent to hospital for treatment.

The six affected had suffered from vomiting and nausea, he added.

Mr Tan said the father of the two girls had also come down with food poisoning.

The first victim had sought assistance from the medical team at about 9.45pm on Saturday, he said.

The other seven, Mr Tan said, were released on condition that they were accompanied by their families or friends.

Mr Tan said three more people came down with food poisoning on Sunday, but were treated at their base in Merdeka Square.

He said those who may have drank from the contaminated food packets may experience stomach discomfort, burning sensations, nausea and vomiting.

"If you have these symptoms please report to the medical tents in your area."

Said Ms Chin Abdullah: "It looks like sabotage. It is disgusting! This is about people's lives.

"I condemn whoever was giving out these packets and I urge supporters to not accept any free drinks that are being given out during the rally," she added.

Ms Chin Abdullah said supporters should only take the bottled water given out by official Bersih 4 volunteers.

The rally's medical team lodged a police report following the incident.

"I don't want to speculate on what could have been in the drinks. We leave it to the police to investigate," Mr Tan said.

In a statement issued to the media on Sunday, Ms Chin Abdullah said: "The Coalition for Clean and Fair Election (Bersih 2.0) condemns the insidious act where boxes of juices offered to the public during the Bersih 4 peaceful assembly yesterday night under the guise of 'support for Bersih' had been contaminated.

"These drinks have caused participants to have stomach pains, vomiting and diarrhoea. This seems to be an act of sabotage and an attempt to poison our participants, who have since been given medical attention and taken to the hospital.

"We urge the police to investigate this as soon as possible and bring the culprits to justice. Police reports have been made.

"We also advice all participants to not accept any free drinks distributed by people not authorised by the Bersih 4 organizing committee.

"If they do, we advise them to check the top seam of the packet drinks for puncture holes, and if found, immediately report it to the security unit."

KL criminal investigation department chief Zainuddin Ahmad confirmed receiving the report and said that police were looking into the matter.

Mr Tan said the medical team would only leave the area at 9am on Monday, nine hours after the rally is scheduled to end.