NOVEMBER 30 — Lawyers for Liberty is shocked and appalled by the Kelantan State Forestry Department’s and the police’s action in arresting 41 Temiar Orang Asli protestors and breaking up their anti-logging barricades and other structures yesterday in Pos Petei near Gua Musang. To compound matters, today they were remanded for two days by the Magistrate.
The extensive logging activities on the Orang Asli’s customary lands in the Balah Forest Reserve have had serious repercussion on the environment, their traditional way of life and livelihoods, leading them to set up barricades to prevent further logging at the forest reserve.
The Forestry Department’s decision in declaring the area a forest reserve which meant that it must be protected from commercial logging while allowing logging to be done at the same time can only be described as absurd and a grave abuse of power.
The Forestry Department has also unfairly imposed restrictions on ‘outsiders’ entering the forest reserve which had prevented civil society from supporting the Orang Asli in their struggle to defend their customary lands and traditional livelihoods. This had meant that the Forestry Department personnel and even loggers had been able to confront and bully the Orang Asli protestors while they are cut off and unable to receive ‘outside’ assistance.
It is well known that the Orang Asli are one of the most underprivileged and marginalised communities in the country. The Kelantan government and its agencies, rather than assisting them, have chosen to collude with loggers and exploit their customary lands for timber, and now cruelly arresting them for merely standing their ground and defending their rights.
Lawyers for Liberty calls for all the Orang Asli protestors detained to be released immediately as the constitutional and legal framework should be used to protect them, not oppress them further.
Lawyers for Liberty further calls on the Malaysian and Kelantan governments to acknowledge the fact that these Orang Asli communities have rights over their customary lands, as already recognised by the highest courts of the land. The Constitution guarantees all citizens, including the Orang Asli, the right to life, equality and property, and that both state and federal governments have a duty to protect and promote these rights.
* This statement is released by Eric Paulsen, Executive Director, Lawyers for Liberty.
** This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.