Monday, 4 January 2010


2 January 2010

By Dr Kua Kia Soong, Director of SUARAM, 2 Jan 2010

The recent threat by the Registrar of Societies Datuk 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 organizations (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 forty per cent cut in carbon emissions when we
witness actions and the recent threats against Malaysian NGOs that have
been the genuine protectors of Malaysian nature and 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 thirty 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. 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 23 August 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 7 April 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.

To date, there have been a considerable number of NGO activists who
have been banned from Sarawak, the latest being Sivarasa Rasiah, 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
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.