Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Don't flex legal muscle on defenceless Orang Asli, K'tan gov't told

Published     Updated

Human rights group Pusat Komas has urged the Kelantan government to resolve the grouses of the state's Orang Asli community instead of using strong-arm tactics against them.

"The high-handed actions of the officers in arresting the Orang Asli and tearing down their blockade is a clear act of bullying by the enforcement officers and the Kelantan government.

"We strongly urge the Kelantan government to address the root cause of the problem and not use the might of law on the defenceless Orang Asli community," said Pusat Komas programme coordinator Ryan Chua.

He was responding to the arrest of 47 Orang Asli in Gua Musang yesterday.

They were arrested after Kelantan Forestry Department officials, aided by some 100 personnel from the police General Operations Forces (GOF), broke and removed a month-old barricade to keep out loggers.

The Orang Asli community there claimed loggers have encroached their ancestral land but the Kelantan government insisted they were obstructing legitimate logging activities which is a major source of state revenue.

Chua said the Kelantan government must stop intimidating and harassing the Orang Asli community while the police must release all 47 detainees in order to initiate proper discussions with the community.

Promises broken

Meanwhile, Centre to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4 Centre) said it was alarmed by the arrests.

"C4 Centre had worked with these communities closely and its recent efforts to bring officials to Gua Musang and hear the concerns of the Orang Asli saw various pledges to uphold good governance and protect the rights of these poor and marginalised people, and together find peaceful ways out of this impasse.

"These lofty promises were broken yesterday," said C4 Centre director Cynthia Gabriel.

Cynthia said it was deeply troubling that the Kelantan government chose to be aggressive and prioritise profits over people by roughing up the Orang Asli community.

"(Their) only 'crime' is to protect their land and their homes in which they have lived for hundreds of years.

"Targeting them as if they are brutal criminals is a black mark for the Kelantan Government, who espouses Islam as its core principles in governance.

"Where did these values go when it comes to unbridled logging in the state?" she said.

Cynthia said there needs to be better policy making on forest management and urged the Kelantan government to impose a moratorium on logging around Kuala Betis in Gua Musang.

Joining the chorus of condemnation is Lawyers for Liberty, which said it was shocked and appalled by the arrests.

"It is well known that the Orang Asli are one of the most underprivileged and marginalised communities in the country.

"The Kelantan government and its agencies, rather than assisting them, have chosen to collude with loggers and exploit their customary lands for timber, and now cruelly arresting them for merely standing their ground and defending their rights," said Lawyers for Liberty executive director Eric Paulsen.

Paulsen called for the immediate release of the Orang Asli and urged that their rights be recognised by both the state and federal governments.

Meanwhile, Parti Amanah Negara Youth deputy chief Faiz Fadzil said the arrest of the Orang Asli were "unfounded" as they were the forest's legitimate dwellers and not outsiders.

As such, he said the Kelantan Forestry Department had no power over the Orang Asli.

"The law was abused for the interest of certain quarters with complete disregard for the people's rights and freedom as enshrined in the Federal Constitution." 

He also urged for those arrested to be released immediately.

Meanwhile Jaringan Kampung Orang Asli Pahang JKOAP wants Kelantan Menteri Besar Ahmad Yakob and Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak to intervene and secure the release of the detained Orang Asli, and in one swoop put a stop to logging in their ancestral land.
This, said the native rights NGO in a statement, will put to rest the conundrum over their land and the encroachment of loggers.
JKOAP added this should be a matter of course since the report by the task force investigating the matter was already handed to the deputy prime minister.

Last month, Ahmad said logging is the state's largest source of revenue.

He said RM172.96 million, or 29.12 percent of the state's projected revenue of RM539.8 million for this year, will come from logging.

The police managed to secured a remand order to hold the 47 detainees for two days.

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