What Rainforest?

A Night To Remember
July 16, 2008, 11:37 pm
Filed under: Campaign, Indigenous People, Oil Palm

Sixty indigenous people of Sarawak led by Sarawak Dayak Iban Association (Sadia) staged a peaceful 30-minute candle light vigil demanding for recognition of their land rights at the Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF) last Sunday.

The group, including two elderly men in their 80s trooped into the Sarawak Cultural Village as festival-goers began streaming into the venue for the final night performance.

Festival-goers got wind of the solidarity event from two sets of leaflets that were distributed the day before. In a tongue-in-cheek fashion asking What Rainforest?, they were invited to show their support for the indigenous communities’ struggle for their rights over their traditional land.

Rest-assured the police ‘heard’ the call-for-action loud and clear too. They responded by deploying so many plainclothes cops that I could bump into one every few steps easily not to mention those in uniform led by Kuching OCPD DSP Wong Wei Loong.

Did I say it was peaceful? Well, it was for a good 5 minutes before the police moved in as more candles were lit and the group was joined by sympathizers, both local and foreign.

Just as villagers hold up their placards with statements like Kelapa Sawit, Kepala Sakit and Don’t steal our land, respect NCR, plainclothes policemen snatched the items.

The crowd reacted candidly by holding up the leaflet that they had kept and the cover of a 20-min film titled What Rainforest? …Wake up and smell the palm oil!

As Nicholas Mujah, coordinator of Sarawak Dayak Iban Association (Sadia) who led the protest tried to make a speech through a loud-hailer, he was stopped.
A Special Branch officer tried to coax Nicholas by speaking in Iban but Nicholas replied in Malay for all to hear: “When you retired, would you have a kampong to go back to if you allow the companies to take away our land? We’ve to defend our land and our rights.”

Sivarasa Rasiah, the Subang MP who was at the festival with his wife Anne James was among the crowd. YB Siva intervened as the situation got a bit tense as Nicholas was alienated and surrounded by Special Branch officers. One of us overheard the cops saying ‘arrest him’.

Siva insisted that Nicholas is allowed to make his statement and leave and the police will not arrest him. All the while a Caucasian freelance TV reporter recorded the event and both Nicholas and Siva were interviewed. Sad to say none of the local media bothered to cover the event. I saw one young reporter refusing to take our brochure. Wouldn’t he want to find out what we have to say?

Anyway …

Nicholas later informed that a Special Branch officer known to him told him that the police was ready for us and even showed Nicholas the two FRU trucks parked some distance away from the entrance.

The crowd managed to hang on for 30minutes jostling and negotiating with DSP Wong without any untoward incident.
Even the rain held out for us. It poured shortly after as we made our way back to the cars.

I must say that OCPD Wong and his boys behaved rather professionally. Maybe deep down they too see the injustices inflicted upon the indigenous communities – first, by logging activities and now plantation companies.

The latter, if left unchecked NOW will mean the death knell for Sarawak rainforests.

So, once again, What Rainforest?

Let us stop kidding ourselves…


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