Greetings from SAM.
This is an update concerning the recent arrest of nine natives in Baram, Sarawak for defending their native customary lands.
They were ordered to execute a bond for good behaviour by the magistrate. Six of them signed and were released. However three of them refused and are now detained in Lambir prison, Miri.
We also reproduce below the letter written by the three of them (with facts of their said arrests and subsequent detention as stated therein).
This was written originally in Iban and sent to SAM through their wives when the latter visited them in prison on 25 April 1997.
SAM is also helping other native communities who are seeking legal redress. We will keep you posted from time to time on these cases.
Sahabat Alam Malaysia
Miri: On 23 April, 9 Ibans native who were arrested by the Malaysian Police Field Force personnel for protecting their native customary land from being continously encroached and destroyed by the oil palm plantation developers, Land Development Custody Authority (LCDA) and Nation Mark Sdn. Bhd, were order by the Magistrate's Court Miri to excute a bond of peace for six months. The Court released them on RM3000 bail in two sureties each.
The 9 Ibans are from three longhouses in Tinjar area in Baram. They are:
When the Ibans were brought before the magistrate on the morning of April 23 ( Wednesday ), they were not given the opportunity to explain their case. The police / public prosecutor just read the allegation against them and requested the Magistrate to give order so they the 9 Ibans will enter a bond of peace for six months. The magistrate did not make any inquiry from the 9 Ibans. Upon the prosecutor suggestion/advice, the magistrate straight away made the order.
Six of them have been released. However, another three ( Headman Riggie Ak Beluluk, Ungkok Ak Ata and Gengga Ak Timbang ) were dissatisfied and disagreed with the order made by the magistrate. When met by their relatives at the Magistrate's Court, they told their relatives that the decision made by the magistrate was very unfair. They said such order is only for those who committed criminal offences. We are only protecting our ancestral land and our life, they said.
The three have been sent to the Miri Central Prison on the 24th April.
Translated from Iban
Miri Central Prison,
25 April 1997.
We send our warm greetings to all of you from the Miri Central Prison, Sarawak, Malaysia. We are from a Dayak Iban longhouse in Sungai Nat, Tinjar, Baram. I am TR. Riggie Ak Belulok, the Chief of the longhouse and with two of my longhouse elders, Ungkok Ak Ata and Gengga Ak Timbang.
We were brought to the prison here on (Thursday) 24th April 1997. The reason was because on 23rd April 1997 we were brought to the Miri Magistrate Court by the Police whereby they applied to the Magistrate, Ms Monica Ayathi Litis, that each of us execute a bond to keep the peace for a period of six months in the sum of RM 3000.00 with two sureties. But we refused to do so.
When we were arrested on the 17th April 1997, the police did not inform us the reason(s) for our arrest except to say that we were required to attend a meeting with the company that was clearing our customary land for an oil palm plantation which we opposed.
However, instead of taking us to the meeting we were brought to the Miri central police station and detained by the police. On 19th April 1997, we were brought to the Magistrate?s Court Miri whereby the police requested that we be further remanded for investigation in connection with a report lodged by the oil palm plantation company, Nation Mark Sdn Bhd that we intimidated, threatened and assaulted their workers. The court then ordered that we be remanded for eight days.
And on the 23rd April 1997, we were produced before the Magistrate whereby the above said Order was made against us.
We do not agree with the Order because we never commit any criminal offence. And we have taken the decision that we rather stay in Prison here while our relatives and siblings are consulting the lawyer to make an appeal to the High Court against the said Order. The police have told us that if we sign the Order we will be immediately freed. But to us that is accepting their allegations that we are guilty of the crime we purportedly committed which is baseless.
And further, the thing that is uppermost in our mind is the fact that by signing the bond to keep the peace as ordered, we are also accepting the Sarawak government and the oil palm plantation companies? baseless allegation that we do not have any right over our native customary land.
And also we have filed a case in the High Court in Miri, Sarawak challenging the provisional lease issued by the Sarawak Land and Survey Department to the Land Custody and Development Authority (LCDA), a state land and property development agency over our customary land without our knowledge or consent. We believe this is illegal because we have prior and existing proprietary rights over native customary land.
And as the lease is only provisionary and subject to a survey to be carried out over the leased to determine whether or not we have rights over the said area of land, we think that it is also illegal for the Nation Mark Sdn Bhd, which is contractor to LCDA to enter our said land.
We have lodged repeated complaints with the government and the police on our said problem. However, they have just ignored us.
On the 6th January 1997, the Miri High Court on our application had also granted an injunction restraining Nation Mark Sdn. Bhd and LCDA from trespassing on our said land and commencing the oil palm plantation thereon. And on the mutual understanding between our lawyer and the lawyer for Nation Mark Sdn. Bhd, that the company will not trespass on our land, our lawyer was not instructed to apply to extend the said interlocutory injunction. And so, the injunction had lapsed.
But on the 10th April 1997, we were shock to discover that the workers of the company were bulldozing our garden and cultivated land resulting in extensive damages to our land and crops such as fruit trees and vegetables thereon. Last portion of our forest are also being cleared.
As we feared that the company would continue to damage our said land, crops, properties and forest that we went to stop their workers working on our land. We told the Manager of the company to stop work and explained to him that our case against them in the High Court Miri is yet to be determined.
However, on the morning of 17th April 1997, we were again shock to find out that our farm huts on our said land in which we stored padi (rice) seeds and agriculture tools for our farm this year had been blazed or burned down. We strongly suspected it was the works of the company workers because their workers were also found bulldozing the sites of these farm huts on the morning of the 17th April, 1997. We reported all these to the Police Field Force who were stationed there at the site with the workers of the company as well as the Police in Marudi and Beluru without any success.
With all these high handed acts of the company that caused extensive and continued damages to our land, forest destruction, losses of crops and properties that resulted therefrom and further with the indifference of the authorities towards our repeated complaints, we believe we are lawfully justified in exercising our right of private defence against the company by using reasonable force to stop their activities on our said land.
And also since we are possession or occupation of the land and that there is no court Order directing us to vacate the said land, it is wrong for the company to forcibly bulldoze their way onto our said land as the law prohibits self help remedy even in the eviction of squatters.
As responsible elders and leaders of our community and after taking all the above circumstance into consideration, we have now resolved to rather come to the prison here to protest:
(1) against the abovesaid illegal acts of the Sarawak government in granting the said provisional lease over our customary land to LCDA;
(2) against the illegal and high handed acts of Nation Mark Sdn. Bhd. on our said land and for not respecting the Miri High Court to determine our rights in the court;
(3) against the burning of our farm huts and rice (padi) seeds and agriculture tools; and,
(4) for the indifference of the authorities towards our repeated appeals and complaints to them on our abovesaid problems.
(5) against the Malaysian Police in continuing to arrest the Dayak peoples for protecting our land and forest.
We write this letter to you with our hearts in great pain considering how our wives, children and families suffered outside this prison being left alone to look for food and care for themselves without us their sole bread winner.
We sincerely hope that all of you our dear friends will make an effort to assist us by making representation to the Malaysian and Sarawak governments on our problems and in any other ways that you can.
We thank you very much for your concerned and assistance.
Best wish and warmest regards.
Headman Riggie Anak Beluluk
Ungkok Ak Atau
Gengga Anak Timbang
The Chief Minister of Sarawak
Tingkat 14, Wisma Bapa Malaysia
93502 Kuching, Sarawak
Tel: 6082 443 439
Fax: 6-082 - 441 957 / 440 506 / 492 288
The Inspector General of Police (IGP)
Ibu Pejabat Polis Malaysia,