We have no pictures of today’s arrest of Penan natives at the Murum Dam blockade, because two boys trying to take photographs were themselves arrested for recording the event.
The youngest, Tingang Lingok, is believed to be around 13 years old.
The two teenagers are now among 8 Penan who have been jailed at the police station in Belaga, some three hours drive away, and are due to appear in court tomorrow.
This is the second time in a week that Sarawak police have arrested and incarcerated young boys caught up in native land rights disputes.
One boy as young as nine years old and another aged eleven have just been released without charge, after several days incarceration in Miri, having being arrested for helping their family pick oil palm fruit, in an area of native land claimed by a plantation company.
Penan at the blockade say there were around 300 native people at the site when police swooped at around 2pm this afternoon.
The displaced tribespeople had only yesterday moved from their original location nearer the dam to the main Murum Highway, because of police harassment.
An NGO, who has been in touch by phone, told Sarawak Report:
“The police came in ten vehicles with about 80 police, including about 40 riot police (FRU) with all their baton and shield equipment and fully armed. They took 8 people including the two boys. The Penan say they did not resist” [Brimas spokesperson]
The Penan are adamant that so far no reason has been given for the arrest of their relatives.
The tribe are planning to send as many of their number who can be transported over to Belaga tomorrow, where the police are obligated to bring the detainees before a court to explain the grounds for their arrest and any continued detention.
However, reports have already emerged in the online media that the police are accusing the tribe of some form of extortion, apparently demanding money from passers-by!
According to the Star newspaper, the Belaga police chief, Deputy Supt Bakar Sebiu, is claiming that passers by had lodged police reports to this effect:
“From the initial information I have received from my men in Belaga, there were two police reports lodged by people from the Murum Dam who had complained that the Penan protestors at Sungai Majoh Kecil had forcefully stopped people from entering into the dam area.
“These protestors had demanded monetary payment to enter the dam area. It is unlawful to demand such form of payment. My men have seized about RM 700 from the Penan protestors.” [Star Online]
NGOs who have supported the tribal protest say the accusation is entirely false. It fits a well-known pattern of malicious police reports filed by interested plantation and timber companies against native land owners with whom they are in conflict.
“They were passing a box for donations for anyone wanting to help them in their protests. They were holding the tin for anyone passing the blockade and if people sympathise they will donate. It was not done by force. The police confiscated the tin with the money”[Brimas spokesperson]
Sarawak Report has ascertained that the blockaders, who are now positioned across the main highway up to Murum, have indeed been allowing most of the traffic to pass through. This includes not only ordinary folk from the area, but timber trucks and company staff.
Many such people are indeed extremely sympathetic to the Penan, who have been driven from their homes by the rising waters at Murum, which the state government and Sarawak Energy chose to start to inundate before the disputed compensation offer was settled or indeed the resettlement sites were even nearing completion.
However, Deputy Supt Bakar Sebiu has also been quoted as saying:
“The protestors have forcefully restrained people from entering the dam and this is an offence.”[Star online]
NGOs say that only Sarawak Energy lorries, carrying cement up to the dam construction site, which is still far from completion, have been stopped.
The Penan are also stopping vehicles belonging to the company constructing the access road to the site, which is believed to be yet another sub-contractor for the Taib crony company Shing Yang.
Shin Yang are also extensively logging the area and encroaching with oil palm plantations on the so-called protected forest area, which the state government claimed at the UN had been set aside for the Penan to hunt.
The coming days will be crucial to the future of the tribespeople’s desperate attempt to gain justice after the destruction of their unique forests and culture.
They have resisted their resettlement to forced farming, decided for them by Sarwak Energy, but given no choice they are at least intent on receiving more than the below minimum wage compensation and rice and oil rations so far offered by the state government.
The scene of this drama moves to the Belaga court appearance tomorrow.
Concern has focused on one of the detainees, who apparently is in need of medical attention after receiving injuries to his neck.
Sarawak’s state government are in a position to win this battle as they bring in force to subdue the Penan. However, what little reputation they and Sarawak Energy’s Norwegian CEO has sought to build up over this affair will be lost for ever.