World Rainforest Movement

Good news from Sarawak

In our last Bulletin we informed about the inprisonment of 42 Dayak-Ibans at Miri for resisting the expansion of oil palm plantations in their customary lands and disseminated their letter from Lambir Miri Central Prison. We are now pleased to inform that all of them have been freed.

On July 7 a group consisting of 11 persons was bailed by their wives and relatives who were worried about their health. One of them -Mangagat Ak Bukong- was sent to hospital due to severe chest pains, while the others are seeking medical treatment as a consequence of the violence suffered in jail.

Additionally, on August 5 the Miri High Court revoked a lower court’s decision that three Dayak Ibans had acted illegally by protesting an oil palm plantation being developed on their Native Customary Land. They are Longhouse Chief TR. Riggie Ak Beloluk, Gengga Ak Timbang and Ungkok Ak Atau, all of them from Rumah Riggie, Sungai Nat, Tinjar in Baram area in Miri Division.

The above three, together with six Ibans who had been arrested and detained on April 17 this year, were ordered by the Miri Magistrate’s Court to execute a six month “bond to keep the peace,” before they would be released.

Three of the nine individuals chose to remain in prison for 18 days to protest the court’s original decision. According to their statement at the time, “We do not agree with the Order because we never committed any criminal offense . . . the thing that is uppermost in our mind is the fact that by signing the bond to keep the peace as ordered, we are also accepting the Sarawak government and the oil palm plantation companies’ baseless allegation that we do not have any right over our native customary land.”

On August 6 the High Court granted an appeal filed by the Ibans immediately after their imprisonment and squashed an order made by the Magistrate’s Court for them to execute a bond to keep the peace. The High Court considered that the 42 Ibans had not been accorded the statutory protection provided under the Criminal Procedure Code for a fair hearing. Therefore the order to keep peace was considered illegal.

This case can be considered an important victory for the Ibans of Riggie Longhouse and an important precedent for Dayak-Ibans communities throughout Sarawak, as the High Court’s decision finally seems to consider their right to protest against the illegal entry of oil palm plantation companies into their customary lands.

Source: Borneo Resources Institute. August 1997.