KUALA LUMPUR: Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) wants the Malaysian and Kelantan governments to acknowledge that the Orang Asli have rights over their customary lands.
“This right is recognised by the highest courts in the land,” said LFL Executive Director Eric Paulsen in a statement.
The Constitution guaranteed all citizens the right to life, equality and property, he added. “Both state and federal governments have a duty to protect and promote these rights.”
He expressed “extreme concern” at the Kelantan Forestry Department’s blocking of lawyer Siti Kasim from the Balah forest reserve on Oct 12 and 13. “She has the right to meet her Temiar Orang Asli clients,” said Paulsen.
The restriction imposed on Siti and other “outsiders”, argued the LFL statement, was done in bad faith. “They stop the Orang Asli receiving assistance to protect customary lands and traditional livelihoods.”
Paulsen said it was clearly a form of retaliation against the lawyer.
Freedom of movement was a right under Article 9(2) of the Federal Constitution, he pointed out. “It can only be restricted for the security of the Federation, public order, public health or the punishment of offenders,” he said.
Clearly, he said, none of the restrictions applied to Siti and the others concerned. Further, by preventing the Orang Asli from access to legal counsel, their right under Article 5 of the Constitution had been breached, he said.
The problems facing the Orang Asli in Balah forest reserve were extremely serious, noted Paulsen. “They are examples of the irresponsible manner in which the authorities deal with Orang Asli customary lands and their traditional livelihood.”
Siti Kasim is a member of the Bar Council’s Committee on Orang Asli Rights.
The restriction on the lawyer was purportedly applied under Section 47 of the National Forestry Act 1984.