Keruah Usit Mar 27, 2013
Rosni anak Langap (right), 53, wife of the elderly Native Customary Rights (NCR) activist Surik Anak Muntai, told Malaysiakini this, as she cared for her badly injured husband at Sarawak Hospital.
Surik, 66, was savagely attacked on March 15 by a gang of four men, using machetes and clubs. Surik has identified one of the assailants as an “executive” of an oil palm plantation firm vying with local Iban villagers for 7,300 ha of land – a quarter of the area of Penang Island.
The land was issued under a ‘provisional lease’ to two oil palm partner companies, linked by Sarawak Report to wealthy state ministers.
The deal was signed by Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud, under his unpopular Dasar Baru or new land policy. Natives from 16 villages claim the land as communal temuda (farmland and fallow ground) and menoa (hunting and gathering territory).
Rural Iban and other Dayak communities assert that “land is life”: they say NCR is essential to their survival.
The grim squalor and despair within displaced communities that have been deprived of their NCR land in Bakun, Murum, and other areas visited by Sarawak’s top-down ‘development’, underscore this dependency on the forests and rivers.
Pivotal decisions, from those of the High Court to the apex Federal Court, have upheld NCR claims in many Dayak areas, although the Sarawak executive has shrugged off the rulings. Oil palm companies, despite their close links to state leaders, are terrified of losing their mature, productive palm trees to the native communities in court.
When negotiations with villagers for ‘compensation’ of NCR land fail, some companies resort to strong-arm tactics, using the police or gangsters to intimidate locals.
Surik knows the company “executive” by his face and name. On March 19, he identified the man in a statement to the police. The next day, Serian district police chief Mohd Jamali Umi was quoted by a local newspaper as, inexplicably, contradicting Surik’s claim.
Surik has reiterated his identification of his assailant in a video, released online on March 21.
The alleged assailant was remanded for three days and released on police bail on March 19. The 57 year old oil palm “executive” is heavyset and has short facial hair, based on photographs on local villagers’ social media posts, that have not been verified by the police.
When he was due to be taken to court on March 19 for extension of his remand, over 100 Melikin residents turned up at the Serian courthouse to demand an urgent investigation.
Rosni told the NCR villagers’ lawyer, See Chee How, that Serian police had promised that the suspect would be kept in custody. However, the suspect did not surface in court, and was quietly set free instead.
Surik recalls that he was flagged down by the “executive” two hours before the attack, while he was driving on a quiet side road, near an oil palm mill. He says the “executive” had asked for help, on the pretext that his car battery had failed.
Surik was on his way to collect his son from school. He felt uneasy because the “executive’s” car had no licence plates. He also saw the face of another man, whom he describes as having a spiky peak of hair, and says he will be able to identify him as an assailant if he sees him again.
He noticed other men in the car, though he did not see their faces through the heavily-tinted glass. Surik says he would have been killed on the spot, had he got down.
Surik recalled the “executive” was wearing the same shirt when he and three other men ambushed him near a bus stop outside Sekolah Sungai Menyang, at around 11.30am, as he waited for his son.
“They shouted at me and started cutting me, thok thok thok, on my arm and legs, it was over in only a short time, and they ran away,” Surik recounted.
Rosni had gone into the school compound. She found her husband in pain, with terrible injuries.
“My son asked me: ‘why is Daddy bleeding so much?’” she said. “I told him that someone had cut him. He kept asking ‘why did someone hurt him?’”
The assailants remain free. Surik and his family have no police protection. Surik sits in hospital with suspected infection of his knee joint, following the injuries and fractures of both kneecaps. His right forearm is swathed in bandages and a plaster cast, and his right knee is immobilised.
See (extreme left in photo), his lawyer, described a visit to Surik: “Calmly, he explained that he had just had a second round of surgery. The doctors told him that they needed to clean up the knee wound. It caused me great pain to hear this. I can only imagine his suffering when his wound was re-opened. Yet he sounded cheerful, he is just a very strong old man.”
Rosni added: “We ask for your support, from any quarter, in our fight.”
She said Surik would continue to struggle for their NCR claim, and requested assistance for a wheelchair.
The attackers had clearly intended to intimidate the Iban villagers, but they have failed - it appears they need a new tactic.