Malaysiakini reports on arrest of indigenous leaders
Indigenous activist roundup in Malaysia-day swoop
By Andrew Ong, Malaysiakini
There was no Malaysia Day cheer for a group of 15 individuals who were arrested in Kuching while attempting to hand a petition to Chief Minister Taib Mahmud over the displacement of indigenous people.
They were picked up in front of the Wisma Bapa Malaysia building by a group of police personnel and whisked away to the Gita police station.
Sarawak Conservation Action Network (Scane) spokesperson Phillip Jaw, who was among those arrested, expressed disappointment with the police actions.
He said among those arrested were indigenous people residing in the remote areas of Murum and Baram - where hydroelectric dams will be constructed and thus displacing tens of thousands of people.
"Some of us traveled for two days just to be here and hand the petition stating our concerns over the dams. We are disappointed, sad and unhappy that our voices are not heard," said Jaw.
According to Pandungan state rep Dominique Ng (right), who was also arrested, the group started gathering at about 11am but no one from the Chief Minister's Office entertained their request for an official acknowledgment of receipt for the petition.
Police moved in at about 2.45pm after the group haggled in vain with government officials.
"For Sarawakians, Sept 16 is the day we celebrate our independence. But today, it seems the people's voices are being stifled while we seem to be descending into a police state," Ng told Malaysiakini.
Ng said those arrested did not breach the law but were merely exercising their democratic rights in voicing their grievances to the government.
"The government is refusing to even listen despite Prime Minister Najib's 1Malaysia rakyat diutamakan (people first) campaign and all. In our case, it is rakyat diabaikan dan diseksa (ignored and suffering)," he said.
"They were arrested for illegal assembly after they refused a police order to disperse," said Sarawak Rural Development Minister James Masing.
"That's the law of the land. I believe they will be released soon," he told AFP.
Another detainee Raymond Abin, an activist with Borneo Resources Institute Sarawak (Brimas), said the arrest was regrettable, especially on a day as significant as Malaysia Day.
“People came from afar to have their voices heard. There is no other way for them to express themselves other than through a petition,” lamented Raymond.
According to lawyer Harrison Ngau, the 15 individuals must face charges in court for illegal assembly under Section 27 (5) of the Police Act on Sept 29.
Repeated telephone calls to Kuching district police chief ACP Wong Wai Loong for comments went unanswered.
Meanwhile, the Malaysian Orang Asal Network (Joas) has condemned the arrest of the 15 individuals and for failing to listen to the grievances of the affected groups.
“We also condemn the use of arrest to intimidate and silence the voices of the communities who are questioning the construction of large dams on the area.
“This demonstrates the unwillingness of the state government to ensure the full and effective participation of indigenous peoples in projects that affect them,” said Joas president Adrian Lasimbang.
According to Lasimbang, petition had states that the state government decided to build hydro electric dams in the two areas without consulting the affected communities and without any regard to the status of the native lands involved.
“The actions of the state government are in clear contradiction to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which Malaysia strongly supports,” said Lasimbang.
(16 September 2009