Legitimising loggers and demonising NGOs
Kua Kia Soong
The recent threat by the Registrar of Societies Mohd Alias Kalil to deregister Sahabat Alam Malaysia (Friends of the Earth) "if there is proof that it is involved in activities which could threaten the nation's interests" should be a wake-up call for Malaysians to question the moral standing and class bias of the Administration.
Mohd Alias also said that the ROS was closely monitoring SAM and other non-governmental organisations (NGOs) "which acted extremely in fighting for their cause."
We question the sincerity of the government in protecting our forests and to commit to a 40 per cent cut in carbon emissions when we witness actions and the recent threats against Malaysian NGOs that have been the genuine protectors of nature and our environment.
Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) has been one of the most consistent defenders of the Malaysian earth and the rights of our indigenous peoples in the last 30 years or so.
In their advocacy work, they have used legal and peaceful means and like the contributions of other NGOs, the country should thank them for their patriotic services all these years.
Through their monitoring, they have alerted us to the pillage of our forests in West and East Malaysia as well as the plight of our indigenous peoples whose native customary land has been trespassed in the process.
This rape of the Malaysian forest is only possible through the close collaboration between the timber tycoons/developers and the ruling elite in West and East Malaysia. During the 1980s, Malaysia outpaced Indonesia to become the world's largest exporter of tropical wood, which like petroleum is a non-replaceable resource.
Much of Malaysia's remaining forests are in Sarawak and Sabah and these are managed for timber production, each state being empowered to formulate forest policy independently. During the past two decades, sustainable forest management has been non-existent.
In the 1980s, through roadblocks, the indigenous Penan of Sarawak attempted to stop logging in their traditional homeland but their protests were put down by the Malaysian government, which blocked media access to the region until the unrest was settled and the forest dwellers cleared.
Is our country turning into a banana republic?
The situation has deteriorated so much that in recent years, the Penans have been forced to blockade timber roads yet again. The gross injustice to the indigenous people of Sarawak has been exacerbated by allegations of rape and sexual harassment of their womenfolk and children by loggers.
The ruling elite in Sarawak is so morally bankrupt that it bans Malaysians who have been involved in "anti-logging activities" from entering the state while it bestows datukships and Tan Sris on timber tycoons who are responsible for pillaging our forests.
I discovered on Aug 23, 2007 at Kuching airport that I could not enter my own country state of Sarawak! At first the immigration officer would not divulge the reason for my exclusion but after my heated protests he let on that it was for "anti-logging activities".
I can only recall taking part in the 'Stop Bakun Dam' protest at the Lake Gardens in Kuala Lumpur on April 7, 1996 which was promptly and brusquely broken up by the police who used chemical-laced water cannons on women, children and indigenous peoples alike.
The Bakun dam will submerge an area of forest in Sarawak which is the size of the whole island of Singapore. It has already displaced 10,000 indigenous peoples from their ancestral homes to a slum at Sungai Asap resettlement camp.
Thus far, there have been a considerable number of NGO activists who have been banned from Sarawak, the latest being Sivarasa Rasiah (right), the human rights lawyer and MP for Subang.
Is our country turning into a banana republic where a state government can blacklist and ban their citizens from entering a part of their own country according to their whim? Imagine, we can go to every corner of this earth but we cannot enter a part of our own country!
We are blacklisted for wanting to protect Sarawak's forests and indigenous peoples while the timber tycoons responsible for the rampant logging are decorated with honorific titles through their links with the ruling coalition.
Can the government say that we have the human right to freedom of movement in this country?
Since the new prime minister claims to be interested in reforms, we hope he will ensure that the 1Malaysia he envisages does not tolerate such abuse of human rights by the Sarawak state government.
And since he seems to be trying his best to garner support after the 2008 fiasco, let us assure him that if the BN government should be as foolish as to harass Malaysian NGOs like SAM, they will face a concerted campaign by all the other Malaysian NGOs which they will live to regret.
Meanwhile, play it again SAM...
DR KUA KIA SOONG, a former MP, was principal of the New Era College, Kajang. He is also a director of human rights group Suaram.