26 JULY 2019

Amnesty International Malaysia calls on Malaysian authorities to end the harassment and criminalisation of Indigenous peoples defending claims to customary land, including three men that were yesterday released from custody in Perak. The three Temiar men were peacefully defending their claim to customary land in Sungai Papan, Gerik. The arrest and criminal investigation of these men, and several others before them, are a clear violation of the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly of Indigenous human rights defenders and constitute yet another attempt to harass and intimidate those defending Indigenous land rights in the country.

On 17 July, Temiar villagers erected a blockade to defend their community against a logging project led by a private company in Sungai Papan, Perak. On 19 July, police responded to a report lodged by the logging company and threatened to arrest those involved in erecting the blockade. On 21 July, three Orang Asli villagers were arrested, questioned, and released without charge.

On 23 July however, three other Temiar men – Pam Yeek, Johan Aleuj, and Shukri Man – were arrested and held in police custody. They were reportedly investigated under Section 341 of the Penal Code, for wrongful restraint, as well as for not having their identification cards with them. The three Temiar men were brought to court in chains, as documented by the Center for Orang Asli Concerns (COAC). The Gerik magistrate court ordered that the three be held in remand for 2 days. They were subsequently released on 25 July.

“Amnesty International Malaysia urges Malaysian authorities to ensure that Indigenous rights defenders are free from harassment, discrimination, and the threat of criminalisation. It reminds the government of its promise in its 2018 election manifesto to ‘recognise, uphold and protect the dignity and rights’ of Indigenous peoples,” said Shamini Darshni Kaliemuthu, Executive Director of Amnesty International Malaysia.

“It also reminds the Malaysian government of its manifesto promise to bring the report of the 2013 SUHAKAM National Inquiry into the Land Rights of Indigenous Peoples, for debate in the first year of its administration, which it has also failed to uphold. The report includes recommendations which include recognizing Indigenous customary rights to land and ensuring that land development does not adversely impact Indigenous peoples,” she added.

There are specific provisions in Malaysian law, in accordance with Article 8(5)(c) of the Federal Constitution, protecting the human rights of the Orang Asli peoples of the Malay Peninsula, including the demarcation of customary land. Despite this, Indigenous peoples continue to experience human rights violations without adequate and appropriate response from the authorities.

In November 2018, Amnesty International released a report on the challenges facing human rights defenders of Indigenous land in Malaysia. It documented the harassment of and criminalisation of those defending Indigenous land rights, as well as the lack of consultation and free, prior and informed consent on proposals to expropriate areas Indigenous peoples claim as customary land. Since the release of the report, Amnesty International Malaysia has seen little improvement on Indigenous people’s rights, and recently, a sharp deterioration.

Amnesty International Malaysia calls on the authorities to immediately end any ongoing criminal investigations against Pam Yeek, Johan Aleuj, and Shukri Man, following their release.

“We also call on the authorities to put a stop to the harassment, intimidation, and threats faced by the Temiar human rights defenders, and provide them with adequate security and protection. Malaysian authorities should initiate prompt, thorough and impartial investigations into attacks, threats and assaults, including unfounded harassment and criminalisation of defenders, in accordance with national and international standards of due process.

“More broadly, to effect long-term, systemic changes necessary to end the cycle of abuses against indigenous peoples, the government must immediately establish an Independent National Commission on Indigenous Land Rights, as recommended in the SUHAKAM National Inquiry Report. This Commission should have the mandate to review cases of attacks, threats and assaults against Indigenous land rights defenders; carry out timely, independent, and impartial investigations into reports of violations of the land rights of Indigenous peoples; and, where Indigenous peoples demonstrate customary land occupation and use, demarcate and provide title to native customary lands,” said Shamini.

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