Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Pro-Penan movie needlessly attacked - Malaysiakini.com

Pro-Penan movie needlessly attacked - Malaysiakini.com

Hilary Chiew May 3, 10

On April 14, three days before a film-screening intended for a Malaysian crowd was scheduled in London, the Sarawak-based newspaper, MCPX Eastern Times, front-paged a story drawing attention to the event. It was to be the screening of my documentary film - Penusah Tana (The Forgotten Struggle).

In a highly unusual publicity of the event, the article implied that the film presented a false picture of the Penan's long-standing resistance against logging. Interestingly, it included an interview with Ajang Kiew, the protege of the film, of which the senior Penan admitted to his involvement in past blockades – the peaceful protest method employed by the Penan that has come to symbolise their defence of their forest home in the high-profile international campaign to save Sarawak rainforest.

Notwithstanding the fact that Ajang Kiew has decided that he has enough of the confrontational ways and now preferred to engage in 'give and take' discussions, the historical facts remain that he was a veteran blockader as depicted in the film.

As I won't pretend to be able to comprehend the hardship that Ajang has suffered all those years, so I would not judge him for his decision in his old age. However, I did make it a point at the screening in London to mention that Ajang has abandoned the struggle and no longer heads the Sarawak Penan Association.

Never did Eastern Times contact me to verify if indeed their interpretation of the event was correct. Neither did they check with the host of the event that the screening was a campaign against Malaysian timber and oil palm plantation industries as they virtuously proclaimed. I have never met their journalist and couldn't have possibly offended them to warrant such a personal attack that was so apparent in the following article the next day in the same newspaper, again on the front-page.

In the second article, they wrote: ‘Failing in her attempts to sway local public opinion by raising emotional issues such as the alleged rape of Penan schoolgirls, Chiew is now treading on the trodden path of foreign NGOs bent on attacking Malaysian primary industries’.
As was typical of mainstream media reporting, particularly timber company-owned Sarawak newspapers, on conflicts arising from commercial logging in the state for the last quarter century, the Eastern Times pointed its finger at Western media/NGOs evil interference.
Alas, it would be disappointed. Neither was the Western media invited to the screening nor was there presence of Western environmental NGOs.

As for the Penan rape case – public outrage was evident from the number of letters, SMS-es, local NGOs and official responses carried in major newspaper and online publications. The Women, Family and Community Development Ministry promptly set up a task force and the police launched an investigation.

The task force's report acknowledged that sexual violation of Penan women and young girls was indeed a problem afflicting the marginalised Penan community. Until today, the police have neither officially announced its investigation results nor decisions on the matter.
The Eastern Times surely is aware of the Ministerial Penan Task Force Report which incidentally included the testimonies of the two young victims highlighted in my articles. In the last few years, the plight of the Penan has also been documented by the Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) in the agency’s own independent investigations which showed that the Penan are worse off today than they were 20 years ago and the underlying cause being the unsustainable logging practices sanctioned by the state.

The said documentary was premiered in Malaysia in 2007 and screened at numerous venues and is viewable here. http://whatrainforest.com/