Authorities' actions 'uncalled for', says journalist held at blockade

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A freelance television producer arrested while on duty at the Orang Asli blockades in the interiors of Gua Musang, Kelantan, described the actions by Forestry Department officers as uncalled for.

Jules Ong, who was arrested together with videographer Lim Chee Too and 16 Orang Asli activists on Tuesday, told Malaysiakini that they were verbally abused and harassed by some 20 to 30 uniformed officers.

“Basically they tried to stop us from filming. They came, they saw us there and asked us to stop.

“They surrounded us and shouted at us. They tried to intimidate us,” Ong said when contacted yesterday.

Ong said the authorities had also tried to grab their equipment and only stopped short of physically assaulting them.

“Their actions was totally uncalled for,” he said.

While the authorities claimed that they were trespassing on forest reserve land, Ong said he had tried to negotiate and reasoned that they were merely carrying out their duties to report on a matter of public interest.

Forced to surrender equipment

Ong said they were eventually handcuffed and forced to surrender their equipment, before being taken away to the state Forestry Department office and later handed over to the police.

Throughout the interrogation process, Ong said, the authorities had repeatedly asked for their reasons for being at the blockades.

“We answered some questions and exercised our rights to remain silent on other questions,” he said.

Ong said the police had also asked whether they were linked to anti-logging activists, including lawyer Siti Kassim.

“We just said we were commissioned by Channel News Asia,” he said.

Ong said Siti Kassim eventually arrived from Gua Musang and negotiated for their release on police bail at 10pm on Tuesday night.

“The police wanted to keep our recordings but we negotiated for them to keep the original SD card and make a copy for us,” he added.

In recalling their ordeal, Ong said he had also tried to seek an interview with the state Forestry Department director and submitted an official request to feature their operations in the one-hour documentary.

“But they did not respond... This just shows that they really do not want the people to know what has been going on,” he noted.

The Forestry Department has said the arrests were made as part of its joint enforcement raid to remove the blockades erected by the Orang Asli community on several roads leading into state reserve forests in Gua Musang.

It also reiterated that the blockades were illegally erected as they were not on Orang Asli village land, but in the forest reserve that it administered.

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