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Kelantan Forestry Dept under fire for crackdown on Orang Asli

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The Kelantan Forestry Department have come under fire from human rights group and political parties from both sides of the divide for its crackdown on the Orang Asli community in Gua Musang.

Both MCA and PSM condemned an operation by the Kelantan Forestry Department this morning to dismantle an anti-logging blockade put up near Pos Bihai by the native inhabitants.

The move was also met with criticism from the Malaysian Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) as well as civil rights groups Lawyers for Liberty and Bersih.

Sixteen Orang Asli and two media personnel from Channel News Asia were arrested in today's operation and another five were arrested yesterday in a similar operation at Simpang Petei.

The latest crackdown to remove the reassembled blockades came two months after 52 Orang Asli from the area were arrested when authorities moved in to dismantle the structures.

Responses from the various groups, edited for brevity, follows:

Suhakam chairperson Razali Ismail

Suhakam is appalled at the decision by the Forestry Department of Kelantan to demolish another Orang Asli blockade in Gua Musang, Kelantan.

These blockades are a symbol of protest by them, opposing unrestrained commercialisation of the forests, which violates the many established principles on business and human rights, such as the duty of the State to protect, and duty of businesses to respect the human rights of the Orang Asli.

Suhakam emphasised that the government must take concrete steps to expedite the implementation of the recommendations of the National Task Force Committee that has in principle accepted 17 out of the 18 recommendations by Suhakam.

Suhakam reiterates that major legislative and administrative reforms are needed to adequately define and protect the rights of the Orang Asli over their land and resources, and decisive steps are necessary to urgently to find solutions that would allow the Orang Asli to recover their lands and territories.

Suhakam also calls for a review of the National Forestry Act 1984.

Lawyers for Liberty executive director Eric Paulsen

These arrests are a serious assault on democracy and freedom of the press and must be condemned.

Such high-handed behaviour will only send a chilling message to the press to self-censor or not cover such events or else they may be arrested.

The extensive logging activities on the Orang Asli’s customary lands 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 Kelantan government and its agencies, rather than assisting them, have chosen to collude with loggers and exploit their customary lands for timber.

Lawyers for Liberty calls for the Kelantan government and its agencies to cease all harassment against the Orang Asli protestors and journalists, for them to be released immediately and unconditionally, and their equipment and other materials returned unharmed.

Kelantan MCA liaison committee secretary Lua Choon Hann

For PAS to silence the media, shows how hardline they are in clamping down on press freedom and the truth of the hardships inflicted on the Orang Asli.

As its name stands, the Kelantan Forestry Department should be protecting the greens, ensuring environment conservation and continuity of the way of life for the Malaysia’s indigenous population.

The Kelantan Forestry Department should not indirectly pave the path for timber tycoons to flatten more hills, pollute more rivers, cause soil erosion, floods, much less destroy the livelihoods, homes and way-of-life of the Orang Asli.

Parti Sosialis Malaysia

Enough with the Orang Asli being arrested, bullied, having their ancestral graves and lands bulldozed.

Suhakam must commence an inquiry against the abuse of power by the Kelantan government and Kelantan Forestry Department.

The Kelantan government had allowed the intrusion into the Orang Asli's customary land by granting temporary occupation licences and lease on those lands.

A memorandum on the matter will be submitted to Suhakam tomorrow.

Bersih steering committee

What the (Kelantan) Forestry Department is doing is a flagrant abuse of human rights, threatening the Orang Asli’s fundamental right to life as their way of life is tied to their ancestral land.

The (Kelantan) Forestry Department has gone too far. They have overstepped their authority and jurisdiction ignoring all due process and protocol.

Their conduct is that of thugs and gangsters and is simply against the law. It must not and will not be tolerated.

The Kelantan state government must immediately apologise and publicly declare its recognition of the Orang Asli's right to their land.

All harassment and destruction of their properties must stop immediately. All logging activities in the Balah permanent forest reserve must also cease as such actions are illegal and against the rights of the Orang Asli.

Perkasa Youth vice chief Mohamad Shahiran Safwan Che Mohd Asemari

Police must act against those who encroach on Orang Asli land, as this is an offence following the Gua Musang Magistrates Court's decision to quash an application by a logging firm to remove a blockade on Orang Asli land.

The court said the Orang Asli have the right to control the land they reside in.

What happened today is a display of the Forestry Department's true colours, and their lack of humanity where the Orang Asli were treated like animals.

The action does not make sense, the oppressed are detained while the oppressors remain free.

The Kelantan government should not side with those who act unjustly against the Orang Asli. They must not bend to the will of the uncivilised loggers who only think of profit.

Is the state leadership colluding in injustice? We fear state leaders have something to gain from the loggers' seeming invincibility against the law.

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