The Malaysian Bar condemns the arbitrary arrest, in Gua Musang on 28 January 2012, of 13 Orang Asli of the Temiar tribe who had gathered peacefully to protest and blockade the alleged incessant illegal encroachment onto, and logging of, their ancestral lands. Although the Temiar had been assured that the state authorities would resolve their grievances by mid–January, the alleged intrusion and logging activities had continued unabated. The police reportedly burned down the blockade, detained/arrested the Temiar, and prevented family members of those arrested from accompanying them to the detention centre. The detained Temiar were said to have been denied food and legal representation, and questioned for several hours before being released.
This example of irresponsible policing reflects poorly on the police. Furthermore, if how we treat the marginalised and less fortunate in our society is a reflection of the health of our nation, then this incident serves to confirm that we are crippled by infirmity.
The Malaysian Bar calls on the Kelantan state government to respond to the plight of the Temiar community with the urgency and importance it deserves, and to fulfil its fiduciary duty to preserve the Temiar’s ancestral lands, livelihood and heritage. As a government elected by the people, it is under an obligation to protect the Temiar, and all Orang Asli.
The Court of Appeal in the Sagong Tasi case made it absolutely clear that non–gazetted Orang Asli land that is native customary land must nonetheless be protected in the same way as gazetted Orang Asli reserve land. The Malaysian Bar urges the Kelantan state government to follow this landmark decision and accept that the lands of the Temiar people in Gua Musang are native customary lands, and therefore deserving of protection. Development on native customary lands must conform to the principle of “free, prior and informed consent” as laid down in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples 2007, for which the Malaysian government voted in favour.
The Malaysian Bar also strongly denounces the unjustifiable and illegitimate arrest of lawyer Siti Zabedah Kasim of the Bar Council’s Committee for Orang Asli Rights, who was in Gua Musang as legal counsel representing the Temiar community. The police impeded Siti Zabedah Kasim from executing her duties as a lawyer, as her movements were restricted and she was not permitted to meet or advise the 13 arrested Temiars, despite repeated requests. She was instead detained by the police.
As a result, the arrested Temiars were deprived of legal representation and endured hours of interrogation without the benefit of legal counsel, which was a clear breach of their rights under Article 5 of the Federal Constitution. The deprivation of liberty, denial of the right to legal representation, and detention of a lawyer in the course of her duties are gross violations of the rule of law and of constitutionally–protected fundamental liberties. The Malaysian Bar considers the actions employed by the police as being disproportionate, unnecessary and unlawful.
We call on the police to put an immediate stop to this unacceptable, yet frequent, practice of interfering with lawyers who are carrying out their professional duties. This exhibition of utter disrespect for the important role lawyers play in the administration of justice in this country must not be allowed to continue with impunity.
The Malaysian Bar calls on the police to respect and abide by the rule of law or risk further losing the respect and confidence of the public. The police must obey the law while enforcing the law. Anything less amounts to tyranny and an abuse of police powers.
30 January 2012