Sarawak natives win court case over oil palm protest
Natives from several Iban longhouses who defend their lands against oil palm plantations in the Malaysian State of Sarawak have won a court case against the Police and the government. This was learned these days from local lawyers involved in the case.
The case dates back to 25 June 1997 when 42 Iban natives were arrested by the Sarawak police at the upper Bong River (Sungai Teru, Tinjar, Baram) in Eastern Sarawak for allegedly obstructing surveyors of the Land and Survey Departments from carrying out perimeter survey works for oil palm plantations on their native lands. Ten of the 42 arrested Ibans were charged with the theft of two bulldozers and six drums of diesel fuel belonging to a local logging company.
After their arrest by the police and the field force, the Ibans were subjected to body search and their cameras and film rolls were seized and destroyed by the police. Three of them suffered bruises and cuts as a result of assault by the police during the arrest. They were brought to and detained at the Miri Central Police Station without being given food and drinks for the night.
After their release, the Ibans filed a summons against the police and the Malaysian government. The trial started in 2004 and was completed on 11 December 2006. The Sessions Court at Miri ruled that the police had wrongfully arrested the 42 natives, nine of whom are women.
The Ibans’ legal interests were represented by the lawyers Harrison Ngau and Kalveet Singh Sandhu. Harrison Ngau said: “This victory brightens up our spirit in the struggle for the recognition of native land rights. Three similar cases are still pending in the local courts.”
The defendants have filed an appeal against the decision to the High Court.
BMF / 2 February 2007