After attempting to send a memorandum of protest against two dam proposals to the Sarawak Chief Minister Taib Mahmud, fifteen indigenous leaders were arrested in Kuching, Sarawak, reports the non-governmental organization the Burno Manser Fund.
Each of the community leaders—including six Penans, four Ibans, three Kenyahs, and two Kayans—were protesting the dams since they will flood portions of indigenous territory. The leaders have since been released on bail of 3000 Malaysian Ringgits each (862 dollars), but have been summoned to appear in court on September 29th.
The hydroelectric dams will be built in the Baram and Murum areas of Sarawak, but the indigenous communities say that have not given their consent to the projects and the state has ignored the status of the native lands which would be affected by the dams.
The Malaysian Star reports today that 1,000 Penan people and 20 Kenyah families will be relocated due to one of the dams. Leaders of the Penan have said the dam will destroy their lands, crops, and burial sites.
However, the government contends that relocated indigenous people would have better lives with access to school and health facilities, yet details of the plans have not been provided to the indigenous communities.
The activist leaders accuse the Sarawak government of contradicting the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which Malaysia strongly supports.
Three of the arrests were of leaders of the Jaringan Orang Asal SeMalaysia (Indigenous Peoples Network of Malaysia), while the others were representatives from the Kayan, Kenyah and Penan communities of Sarawak. Jaringan Orang Asal SeMalaysia strongly condemns the arrest of its leaders.
The Bruno Manser Fund says that all charges should be dropped against the leaders and the government should apologize for the arrest.
(09/03/2009) Sarawak, land of mystery, legend, and remote upriver tribes. Paradise of lush rainforest and colossal bat-filled caves. Home to unique and bizarre wildlife including flying lemurs, bearcats, orang-utans and rat-eating plants. Center of heavy industry and powerhouse of Southeast Asia. Come again? This jarring image could be the future of Sarawak, a Malaysian state on the island of Borneo, should government plans for a complex of massive hydroelectric dams comes to fruition. The plan, which calls for a network of 12 hydroelectric dams to be built across Sarawak’s rainforests by 2020, is proceeding despite strong opposition from Sarawak’s citizens, environmental groups, and indigenous human rights organizations. By 2037, as many as 51 dams could be constructed.
(09/01/2009) A meeting between the Penan indigenous tribe, Malaysian government officials, and representatives of a logging company ended without an agreement on Friday. After the meeting, a Penan spokesman declared that the group’s blockade would continue. Blockaders, dressed in traditional garb, have armed themselves with blowguns and spears.
(07/31/2009) Indigenous Penan have set up roadblocks in Malaysian Borneo to stop loggers from encroaching on their rainforest land, reports Survival International, an indigenous rights’ group.