PETALING JAYA: Two NGOs joined the government’s human rights body today to take Kelantan authorities to task after Orang Asli and journalists were arrested at a blockade in Gua Musang.
The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia’s (Suhakam) called for “legislative and administrative reforms” to define and protect the rights of the Orang Asli when it comes to their land and resources.
It also suggested that the National Forestry Act 1984 be reviewed.
“Despite clear evidence that the situation of the Orang Asli constitutes a serious derogation of Malaysia’s obligations to respect, protect and fulfil their rights, the government has done little to meaningfully address their situation, and the Orang Asli continue to lose more land and with it the enjoyment of related rights.”
Electoral reforms coalition Bersih 2.0 took issue with the state’s Forestry Department for failing to take detainees to the police station as well as for seizing their personal belongings, including mobile phones and motorcycles.
“The Forestry Department has gone too far. Their conduct is that of thugs and gangsters and are simply against the law. It must not and will not be tolerated,” the statement read.
It also demanded that the state government apologise immediately and recognise the Orang Asli’s right to their land.
“All harassment and destruction of their properties must end immediately. Logging activities in the Balah permanent forest reserve must also cease as it is illegal and against the rights of the Orang Asli.”
Meanwhile, Lawyers for Liberty expressed shock over the state Forestry Department’s arrest of two journalists working for Singapore-based Channel NewsAsia.
“These arrests are a serious assault on democracy and freedom of the press and must be condemned.
“Such high-handed behaviour will only send a chilling message to the press to self-censor or not cover such events or else they may be arrested,” read the statement signed by LFL executive director Eric Paulsen.
“We would like to remind the Kelantan government that journalism is not a crime and these journalists were merely performing their role in reporting an issue of grave importance and of public interest.”
Earlier today, the journalists, along with 16 Orang Asli were arrested by the Forestry Department for carrying a live coverage of the authorities dismantling an Orang Asli blockade in Gua Musang. They were released later in the afternoon.