In major win for Orang Asli, High Court orders Johor govt to recognise Seletar ancestral land, pay RM5.2m in compensation

Lawyer for the plaintiffs, Tan Poh Lai (3rd right) with the plaintiffs after the settlement yesterday outside the Johor Baru High Court (Civil) September 30, 2020. — Picture courtesy of Tan Poh Lai
Lawyer for the plaintiffs, Tan Poh Lai (3rd right) with the plaintiffs after the settlement yesterday outside the Johor Baru High Court (Civil) September 30, 2020. — Picture courtesy of Tan Poh Lai

JOHOR BARU, Sept 30 — The Johor government has been ordered to pay a group of Orang Asli from the Seletar tribe a total of RM5.2 million as compensation for taking them away from their native customary land in Johor Baru 27 years ago.

In addition, the High Court here yesterday ordered the state to regazette the current plot of land the tribesmen now call home as an Orang Asli settlement.

Lawyer for the Orang Asli Tan Poh Lai said the consent agreement reached by both parties was a great achievement for Malaysia’s indigenous community.

She also described the case that started 15 years ago as a great victory and a landmark case as it involved an Orang Asli native customary land.

“This is a recognition that the land from which they moved was indeed native customary land.

“Their present land where they now live will be re-gazetted as an Orang Asli settlement under the Orang Asli Act 1954, which will ensure security of tenure.

“This result is an encouragement for all Orang Asli in Malaysia,” said Tan when contacted by Malay Mail today.

Tan explained that the case started when 51 Orang Asli were relocated from the heart of the Johor Baru city centre in 1993 where The Zon shopping mall now stands to Kampung Kuala Masai.

“In 2005, the church built by the plaintiffs in Kuala Masai was destroyed, leading to this marathon litigation,” she said.

Initially, Tan added that the state government only wanted to give RM5,000 per plaintiff family, about RM255,000.

“Thus, yesterday after 15 years, marks a great victory. We have entered into a consent judgment of RM5.2 million to be paid by the Johor state government,” she said, adding that according to the consent judgement the state government has until the end of the year to settle any outstanding amount owed.

Last year, the Orang Asli Seletar filed a mandamus application to settle the compensation, following a High Court decision in 2010 which favoured them.

It was previously reported that 51 Orang Seletar had so far won two legal cases against the state government after being evicted from their land in 1993.

This came about as the order to compensate them, had yet to be fully enforced, although the Johor Land and Mines Department lost the case in the High Court in 2010 and again in the Court of Appeal in 2012.

The plight of the Orang Seletar began in 1993 when the state government directed the settlement to relocate from Stulang Laut, where they had been staying for hundreds of years, to Kuala Masai.

The relocation took place in 2003. Two years later, the Orang Asli took the government to court following a series of events, including the demolition of a church they had built in Kuala Masai.

In the 2010 judgment, High Court judge Justice Zakiah Kassim ruled that the land in Stulang Laut, which had been developed into a shopping and commercial centre known as The Zon, belonged to the community.  

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