By Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary-General and MP for Tanjung, Lim Kit Siang, in Penang on Saturday 4.11.1989
Call for the immediate release without bail 83 Penans who had been detained since September for trying to defend their homes in the Sarawak forests from logging activities
The Prime Minister and home Minister, Datuk Seri Mahathir Mohamed, in reply to my parliamentary question, has said that since September 1989, 117 natives in Sarawak had been detained for forming peaceful human barricades in the deep interior of Sarawak’s tropical rainforests to stop the destruction of their lands by timber companies.
Out of the total, 110 are Penans, six Kelabits and one Borawan. They are all arrested under the Section 90 B of the Sarawak Forestry Ordinance 1954 and dates for their trail have been fixed for 1990. Under the Ordinance, the Sarawak natives could be jailed for two yeas or fined $ 6,000 for defending their traditional homes.
There are still 83 Penans being held in the Miri Prisons because they have not been able to come up with the money to provide bail.
Malaysians of all races cannot be proud of a system where poor and backward Sarawak natives fighting for the survival of their homes and way of life in a peaceful manner can be arrested, and held indefinitely in the Prisons for as many months and years as it would take for their cases to be tried.
It is a great shame that in Malaysia, the defense of one’s traditional homeland and way of life is an offence which could entail two years’ jail and $ 6,000 fine. The Penans and other Sarawak native fighting for their survival would have no money to pay for any such fine, and in the event of conviction, would definitely have to go to jail, as they would never seen $ 6,000 in their entire life.
I call on the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir to immediately order the release of the 83 Penans who have been languishing in the Miri Prisons for lack of bail since September. To continue to keep them in the Miri Prisons until they find bail, is to convict them without trial – as the Penans would not be able to raise bail because of their abject poverty.
There are already a huge backlog and delay in the Sarawak courts, and it is not unusual for a Sarawak native charged with offences under the Sarawak Forestry Ordinance having to wait up to five years from the date of their arrest before their trial comes up in court.
If the 83 Penans held in Miri Prisons since September are not released until they find bail, many of the would be in the Prisons for over two years before they stand trial, for an offence which provides a maximum of two years jail sentence. This would be most scandalous.
I call on Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir to intervene in the plight of the Penans and other Sarawak natives whose traditional homes and livelihood in the Sarawak forests are threatened with destruction by wanton logging activities by the timber companies. Dr. Mahathir should get all the charges preferred against the Penans for defending their very livelihood dropped altogether.
Malaysia cannot hold out heads high in the world or convince Third World countries of out concern for the plight of the backward and suffering in the world, when we in our own country close out eyes to the dire sufferings of the Penans and other Sarawak natives fighting for survival.