Orang Asli: Putrajaya’s lawsuit against Kelantan govt planned way before Cameron Highlands by-election

Jaringan Kampung Orang Asli Kelantan chairman Mustafa Along explained that his group had been in talks with representatives of the Attorney-General and the Bar Council since October 2018 on plans to launch the legal action over the Orang Asli’s ancestral lands. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Jaringan Kampung Orang Asli Kelantan chairman Mustafa Along explained that his group had been in talks with representatives of the Attorney-General and the Bar Council since October 2018 on plans to launch the legal action over the Orang Asli’s ancestral lands. — Picture by Hari Anggara

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 19 — The federal government’s unprecedented lawsuit against the Kelantan state government on behalf of the Orang Asli community is not linked to next week’s Cameron Highlands by-election, the community has said.

Mustafa Along, the chairman of Jaringan Kampung Orang Asli Kelantan (JKOAK), explained that his group had been in talks with representatives of the Attorney-General and the Bar Council since October 2018 on plans to launch the legal action over the Orang Asli’s ancestral lands.

“Therefore, the statement by those who say this issue was purposely raised in the interests of the Cameron Highlands by-election is a statement with no basis and irresponsible, as this action was planned before the Cameron Highlands by-election and it is not appropriate if this matter was politicised for the interests of certain quarters as it only involves the interests of the Orang Asli community,” he said in a statement today.

The Cameron Highlands by-election on January 26 was only announced on December 19, following a November court decision that declared the previous results in the federal seat during the 14th general election as null and void.

The Kelantan state is under PAS rule. The opposition party’s president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang had earlier today questioned the timing of the lawsuit since it was announced during an ongoing by-election where Orang Asli votes are crucial.

On behalf of the Orang Asli community in Kelantan, Mustafa thanked the Malaysian government’s lawsuit via Attorney-General Tommy Thomas, which he said had the backing of minister P. Waytha Moorthy and the Bar Council’s committee on Orang Asli rights.

“This legal action is the first action in the country’s history which could be carried out by the government since matters relating to the care of the Orang Asli’s interests and welfare is under the Federal Government’s responsibility,” he said.

He also traced the roots of the matter to the Kelantan state government’s launch of the Pembangunan Ladang Rakyat programme in 2006, noting that the project involved the taking over of many native lands belonging to the Orang Asli community in the Gua Musang area in Kelantan.

Tensions over the dispute between the Temiar tribe of the Orang Asli community and the Kelantan state government had intensified since 2015, when the Orang Asli community in the Gua Musang area started erecting blockades, he explained.

“We will continue to take any actions that we deem necessary to block the territory of our native land from continuing to be intruded upon, including by re-erecting blockades if logging, mining and farming activities become active again,” he said.

Yesterday, the attorney-general announced that the federal government of Malaysia has filed a civil lawsuit against the Kelantan state government, the Kelantan state director of lands and mines, the Kelantan state director of the forestry department and five private entities.

In the lawsuit filed to benefit the Orang Asli at no costs to them, the Malaysian government wants the courts to give legal recognition of the Temiar Orang Asli’s native land rights in Pos Simpor, and injunctions to block private parties from encroaching upon and destroying the native land for commercial profits.

In explaining why the lawsuit was filed, the attorney-general said that the Kelantan state government and its agencies had granted logging licences to private companies who entered the Temiar Orang Asli’s native land in Pos Simpor near Gua Musang with heavy vehicles.

These companies had allegedly cleared the forest land for durian and rubber plantations, which the attorney-general said had deprived the Temiar Orang Asli of their native land and resources while also causing soil erosion, pollution and irreversible damage to Pos Simpor’s ecology.

“Regrettably, the Kelantan Government did not consult the Temiar Orang Asli prior to granting these logging licenses nor offer them any compensation for the deprivation of their native land resources,” the attorney-general had said.

Today, PAS secretary-general Datuk Takiyuddin Hassan said a team of experienced lawyers have said they would take up the case for free.

The lawsuit is reportedly expected to be brought up for mention in court on January 22.