Sri Aman, Sarawak - After the arrest and release of 15 indigenous people in Sarawak on Malaysia Day, another 15 indigenous Iban have been reported arrested in the Pantu District in Sarawak, for the alleged crime of harvesting oil palm fruits that have been grown on their native land. This was done in response to a police complaint filed by trespassing company Pelita-Tetangga Akrab.
From reports on the ground, the group consisted of 20 Iban but the 5 women in the group were allowed to go free. Though there are no plans to charge the group, the police claim to be unable to release the 15 men until their statements are taken. To add insult to injury, they will have to spend a night in custody due to a lack of a photocopy machine with which to make copies of their identification documents.
"This is a clear case of harassment," said Nicholas Mujah, Secretary General of the Sarawak Dayak Iban Association. "They are not going to be charged and yet they will have to spend one night in the custody of the police. It shows that the companies are able to exert influence over the police and government."
The communities' farm land was taken by Pelita-Tetangga Akrab in 2003 in a joint venture to plant oil palm, despite immediate protest and the filing of a court case by the communities affected. Though they have claimed to do this JV with the community, the vast majority of the communities rejected the project and their right to free, prior and informed consent ignored.
As a desperate measure, the villagers have taken to harvesting the oil palm fruit that was grown on their land. Though numerous reports and complaints to the police have been made by the villagers, these have fallen on deaf ears.
"The government wants the natives to not leave their NCR lands idle. But when the native communities want to develop their own land by planting cash crops such as oil palm, they are being penalised", said Mark Bujang, Executive Director of Borneo Resources Institute, Malaysia (BRIMAS).
In Sarawak, native land rights are recognized by the Sarawak State Constitution and their rights to these lands have been reaffirmed through several key judgments in the Malaysian Courts.
For more information please contact:
Nicholas Mujah (+6-016-876)
Jaringan Orang Asal SeMalaysia/ Indigenous Peoples Network of Malaysia
Jaringan Orang Asal SeMalaysia
18 September 2009