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Deforestation on Orang Asli Temiar territory in the Balah Permanent Forest Reserve, Gua Musang, Malaysia


Description:

Orang Asli is the term used for the indigenous or aboriginal peoples of the Malay Peninsula making up less than 1% of the Malaysian population [3]. There are many ethnic subgroups and tribes within the Orang Asli umbrella. Orang Asli groups mainly live in rural reservations in the interior of the country according to the government’s Regroupment Schemes where they subsist from foraging in the forests as they have for many generations [1]. Urban expansion and private development over the past 40 years, however, have led to land conflicts against state and corporate interests without consent or compensation [25]. Malaysia has one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world owing to its rapid development and economic boom from extractive industries. Much of the deforestation happens in Gua Musang because the indigenous population does not own formal deeds to the land, which also disqualifies them from receiving compensation [3].

Temiar are an indigenous tribe living in the remote mountain jungles of Kelantan, which is also declared as a forest reserve [7]. The permanent forest reserves they live in are administered and policed by the State Forestry Department. However, 90% of such reserves are licensed to logging companies [26]. Private companies clear-cutting the forest have caused soil erosion and destroyed rainwater catchment areas. This has led to the country’s worst flooding disasters, which cause dozens of deaths yearly and force over 200,000 people from their homes [3, 9, 10]. Moreover, the mass deforestation threatens traditional ways of life because it disrupts water quantity and quality, causing the rivers to dry up and be contaminated. Consequently, the Temiar cannot hunt, gather food and medicine, as well as fall ill from pollution and malnutrition. Extractive projects also destroy many sacred religious sites and graves [3].

2012 was the start of a wave of blockades widely publicized through social media campaigning and video recordings documented by lawyer and activist Siti Kasim, who is the main spokesperson legally representing the Orang Asli [10]. The blockades are sustained by convoys run by women defenders such as Sabrina Syed from the Preservation of Natural Heritage Organization (PEKA), who deliver food and supplies to those on the frontlines during the night. However, the convoy runners have often been intercepted and arrested for trespassing to prevent them from helping the Orang Asli [26]. On January 28, 2012, 13 people who were peacefully gathered in protest were arbitrarily arrested. The police burned down the blockade and prevented family members of the detained from accompanying them to the holding center, where they were denied food and legal counsel during questioning. Kasim was also arrested to prevent her from working as their lawyer [18].

On September 26, 2016, over 200 Orang Asli conducted a blockade preventing timber trucks from entering or existing approximately 650 hectares of their territory [14, 15]. On September 28, 2016, unknown men impersonating police officers suspected of being hired by logging companies came to arrest activists Mustafa Along, Manglo A/L Tegau, and Salim in retaliation against the blockade [10]. The false officers detained the men on the grounds of provocation, blocking a throughfare, and disturbing the peace. As this was happening, the “officers” also began using chainsaws on the barriers while people were still hanging on them, then using a vehicle to ram through, forcing the blockade participants to flee [10]. One man was seriously injured as a result [26]. Another vehicle carrying more men then arrived, and one emerged from the car shooting at the crowd with a rifle. The men also destroyed a nearby hut and verbally threatened the protesters [11]. Kasim then had 2 police reports filed against her, accusing her of organizing and instigating the blockades to scapegoat her despite her not having been involved in the blockading. She had, however, been educating the Orang Asli about their rights and representing them in court and in detention trials [14]. To reduce tensions, the Forestry Department issued a temporary stop-work order [12].

On November 29, 2016, a group of Orang Asli were conducting a peaceful anti-logging road blockade in the upstream area of the state forest reserve with the goal of motivating the state government and Deputy of Kelantan Menteri Besar to come to the field and see for themselves how logging has degraded the environment. Protestors sang “Negaraku,” the Malaysian national anthem, as a sign of love and solidarity with the country. A total of 210 officers from the Forestry, Royal Malaysia Police, Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), General Operations Force (PGA), and Civil Defense Force (APM) came to demolish the barriers, barns, and huts as well as arrest 47 of the demonstrators under accusations of trespassing and violence despite the protest having been peaceful [2]. 35 homes were destroyed during the incident. Two videographers recording the incident for Channel News Asia were also arrested during the incident before being released upon the arrival of Kasim [20]. Kasim, throughout the next year, received death, rape, and acid attack threats additionally attacking her for identifying as LGBTQ [22]. 

In response to the arrests and violence, which were recorded and widely distributed to thousands across social media, over 50 Orang Asli across various tribes and states gathered in a march to the Gua Musang courthouse to sing Negaraku in support of those detained. The Kelantan government insisted that the orang asli dismantle their blockade or face the consequences, calling these illegal and arguing that the community was hampering development [12]. One somewhat positive outcome was that the State Forestry Department stopped issuing permits to enter the disputed land. However, the forest is still subject to licenses that authorize private companies to log the forest [26].

On January 17, 2017, Kasim won a high court judgement against logging company Jejarang Wagasan, which had taken the Temiar to court for blockading their logging operations. The court decision was that the Orang Asli have ownership of the land and not the loggers.  However, the Forestry Department defied the judgement and ordered guards to break down three blockades, arresting 16 indigenous Temiar people in the process [26].

On July 4, 2018, the Rural Development Deputy Minister R. Sivarasa came to visit the Temiar to finally negotiate recognition of their land rights. Right afterward, men from durian and rubber plantation company Musang King came. Initially it appeared as though they were coming to discuss some matters, however, a confrontation then occurred when the men took out chainsaws and started destroying blockades that the Orang Asli had been maintaining since February 18 because the company had destroyed 400 hectares of the ancestral land. Thugs also brutally attacked them. Yet the Temiar were not discouraged and rebuilt the blockades within 24 hours, refusing bribes of durian trees from Musang King [11, 17]. From 2018 and onward, they also began collecting evidence and data in collaboration with local scientists showing that logging practices violated environmental regulations, conducting their own EIA [23].

In November 2018, M7 Plantation Berhad (durian plantation) won a court case giving them the right to forcefully remove barricades and carry out their activities on the land. In March 2019, counter-litigation unsuccessfully attempted to repeal the decision injunction on grounds that its action was frivolous, vexatious and abuse of the court process as well as attain legal recognition of the Temiars’ land rights [4, 5].

On August 27, 2019, enforcement officers took down another Temiar blockade as Orang Asli protestors sang Negaraku. The incident had cultural significance as according to Jaringan Kampung Orang Asli Kelantan president Mustafa Along, "Merdeka Day is four days away. The incident today marred the spirit of Merdeka because the rights and freedom of marginalised community like us are being blatantly disregarded” [2]. 

On September 25, 2019, there was finally a High Court hearing on an injunction application led by a team of 7 lawyers including Gurdial Singh and Siti Kasim to stop M7 Plantation Berhad (durian plantation), Musang King (durian and rubber plantation), Fleet Precision Sdn Bhd (timber logging), Koperasi Kijang Mas Negeri Kelantan Bhd (timber logging), KPG Maju Enterprise Sdn Bhd (construction), Ringgit Saksama (M) Sdn Bhd (timber logging), and other private entities from logging and farming on Temiar ancestral lands after several years of delays and dismissals [25, 5]. Plaintiffs represented 892 Temiar communities across 9 villages. During the proceedings, over 300 Temiar people including women, children, and babies chanted messages of encouragement in front of the courthouse [16]. 

The hearing was victorious, as the court ruled that the companies did not have a proper license and did not have consent [4]. The court rejected the companies’ claim to rights to occupy the land, agreeing that the Orang Asli were the rightful occupants [19]. This meant that the Temiar would now be able to freely build blockades to prevent trespassers from entering and clearing the land [4]. Moreover, the court now recognizes their right to control the area and ban outsiders from going in without their consent, hopefully preventing any further violence [19]. 9,300 hectares of Gua Musang forest now legally belongs to the Orang Asli, including 1,000 hectares the Forest Department had slated for clearing. However, the Forest Department still threatens to destroy any new blockades [26]. Moreover, the decision has not successfully stopped the encroachment. In July 2020, soon after the Covid-19 restrictions were lifted, the Orang Asli reported renewed logging activity, which has continued until today [23].

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Deforestation on Orang Asli Temiar territory in the Balah Permanent Forest Reserve, Gua Musang, Malaysia
Country:Malaysia
State or province:Kelantan
Location of conflict:Gua Musang
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Management)
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Plantation conflicts (incl. Pulp
Deforestation
Logging and non timber extraction
Land acquisition conflicts
Specific commodities:Land
Timber
Palm oil
Fruits and Vegetables

Project Details and Actors

Project details

The Kelantan state government has sanctioned logging in the region since 1978, reserving approximately 4,000 hectares for the Orang Asli [15]. Although logging is not a new part of the economy, it has rapidly increased in recent years owing to the provision of clear-cutting licenses rather than selective logging. The Forestry Department gains significant profits from the logging because when they grant licenses, the department immediately gets money. According to Forestry Department numbers, Kelantan had 867,866 hectares of forest in 2008 and is the state with the third-largest forested area in peninsular Malaysia. However, clearance for timber and plantations has skyrocketed from 14,819 hectares in 2008 to 166,291 hectares in 2014, for a total of 151,472 hectares converted over this period, which is still continuing today [26].

Type of populationRural
Start of the conflict:28/01/2012
Company names or state enterprises:M7 Plantation Berhad from Malaysia
Musang King from Malaysia
Fleet Precision Sdn Bhd from Malaysia
Koperasi Kijang Mas Negeri Kelantan Bhd from Malaysia
KPG Maju Enterprise Sdn Bhd from Malaysia
Ringgit Saksama (M) Sdn Bhd from Malaysia
Relevant government actors:National Security Council, Kota Baru High Court, Kelantan state, Federal Government, Court of Appeal, Kelantan Forestry Department, Royal Malaysia Police, Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), General Operations Force (PGA), Civil Defense Force (APM)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Centre for Orang Asli Concerns, Jaringan Kampung Orang Asli Kelantan, Rotary, Peninsular Malaysia Orang Asli Village Network (JKOASM), Amnesty International, Kelantan Orang Asli Village Network Committee, Center for Combating Corruption and Cronyism, Malaysian Bar Association, Sahabat Alam Malaysia, PlanetLabs, University of Maryland, Friends of the Earth Malaysia

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Social movements
Women
Local scientists/professionals
Religious groups
Temiar people
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches

Impacts

Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Food insecurity (crop damage), Soil contamination, Soil erosion, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Health ImpactsVisible: Malnutrition
Potential: Deaths
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Militarization and increased police presence, Land dispossession
Potential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors

Outcome

Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Corruption
Criminalization of activists
Land demarcation
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Migration/displacement
New legislation
Repression
Strengthening of participation
Under negotiation
Violent targeting of activists
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Project temporarily suspended
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:Despite the legal landmark victory declaring various companies as unrightfully operating as well as recognizing Orang Asli land rights, the deforestation continues regardless in defiance of the ruling.

Sources & Materials

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[1] Procedia. Orang Asli resettlement in urban environment (Abdullah et al. 2015)
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1877042815047801

[2] The Star. Enforcement officers demolished Gua Musang blockade (Habibu 2018). (Accessed on: May 18, 2021).
https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2018/08/27/enforcement-officers-demolished-gua-musang-blockade-says-siti-kassim/

[3] Al Jazeera. Malaysia’s indigenous hit hard by deforestation (Blakkarly 2015). (Accessed on: May 18, 2021).
https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2015/4/2/malaysias-indigenous-hit-hard-by-deforestation

[4] The Star. Court rules in favour of Temiar Orang Asli (2019). (Accessed on: May 18, 2021).
https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2019/06/30/court-rules-in-favour-of-temiar-orang-asli-against-plantation-company

[5] FMT News. Kelantan govt’s appeal to strike out suit over Orang Asli land postponed (Anbalagan 2020). (Accessed on: May 18, 2021).
https://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/nation/2020/10/26/kelantan-govts-appeal-to-strike-out-suit-over-orang-asli-land-postponed

[6] FMT News. Orang Asli regain access to ancestral land at Gua Musang (2019). (Accessed on: May 18, 2021).
https://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/nation/2019/06/30/orang-asli-regain-access-to-ancestral-land-at-gua-musang/

[9] Malaysia Dateline. Tragedi kemanusiaan Gua Musang: ‘Orang Asli tidak mengganas’ (Chopil 2016). (Accessed on: May 18, 2021).
https://malaysiadateline.com/tragedi-kemanusiaan-gua-musang-orang-asli-tidak-mengganas/

[10] Yahoo News. Soil erosion threatens Orang Asli community in Gua Musang (2015). (Accessed on: May 18, 2021).
https://sg.news.yahoo.com/soil-erosion-threatens-orang-asli-community-gua-musang-071635500.html

[11] World of Buzz. Durian company destroys Orang Asli blockade in Gua Musang (Esmail 2018). (Accessed on: May 18, 2021).
https://worldofbuzz.com/watch-durian-company-destroys-orang-asli-blockade-in-gua-musang/

[12] Vulcan Post. Why 41 Orang Asli were arrested in Kelantan as they sang Negaraku sorrowfully (Aziz 2017). (Accessed on: May 18, 2021).
https://vulcanpost.com/595963/malaysia-temiar-orang-asli-kelantan-forestry-issue/

[13] Benar News. Orang Asli Temiar Tekad Pertahankan Hak (Mustafa 2016). (Accessed on: May 18, 2021).
https://www.benarnews.org/malay/berita/my-orangasli-temiar-161130-11302016163200.html

[14] Malaysiakini. The lawyer who stands up for Orang Asli (Azhar 2016). (Accessed on: May 18, 2021).
https://www.malaysiakini.com/news/360623

[15] Malay Mail. Temiar people up in arms again, this time against Musang King (Rosli 2018). (Accessed on: May 18, 2021).
https://www.malaymail.com/news/malaysia/2018/07/30/temiar-people-up-in-arms-again-this-time-against-musang-king-rubber-planter/1657509

[16] Sinar Harian. Kelantan gagal ketepi kes saman tanah adat orang asli (Wahid 2019). (Accessed on: May 18, 2021).
https://www.sinarharian.com.my/article/43844/BERITA/Mahkamah/Kelantan-gagal-ketepi-kes-saman-tanah-adat-orang-asli

[17] The Sun. Two journalists, 16 Orang Asli detained by Forestry Dept (Kasim 2017). (Accessed on: May 18, 2021).
https://www.thesundaily.my/archive/2139032-BTARCH423332

[18] The Edge. Malaysian Bar concerned over arrests of Orang Asli, lawyer in Kelantan (2012). (Accessed on: May 18, 2021).
https://www.theedgemarkets.com/article/malaysian-bar-concerned-over-arrests-orang-asli-lawyer-kelantan

[19] IPHRD Network. Court rejects loggers’ bid to dismantle Orang Asli blockade (Xin 2017). (Accessed on: May 18, 2021).
https://iphrdefenders.net/malaysia-court-rejects-loggers-bid-to-dismantle-orang-asli-blockade/

[20] EAIC. TINDAKAN PIHAK BERKUASA 'TAK WAJAR', KATA WARTAWAN DITAHAN DI SEKATAN OA (2017). (Accessed on: May 18, 2021).
http://www.eaic.gov.my/media/berita/tindakan-pihak-berkuasa-tak-wajar-kata-wartawan-ditahan-di-sekatan-oa

[21] Loyar Burok. Temiar bloackade and indigenous rights (Loo 2012). (Accessed on: May 18, 2021).
https://www.loyarburok.com/2012/01/30/temiar-blockade-indigenous-rights/

[22] Frontline Defenders. Siti Kasim receives death, rape, and acid attack threats (2017). (Accessed on: May 18, 2021).
https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/case/siti-kasim-receives-death-rape-and-acid-attack-threats

[23] The Star. Logging has destroyed our land, say Orang Asli (Yee 2020). (Accessed on: May 18, 2021).
https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2020/12/14/logging-has-destroyed-our-land-say-orang-asli

[24] New Straits Times. Logging threat to Orang Asli (Babulal and Othman 2019). (Accessed on: May 18, 2021).
https://www.nst.com.my/news/nation/2019/06/495327/logging-threat-orang-asli

[25] Macaranga. In defence of Orang Asli rights (2019). (Accessed on: May 18, 2021).
https://www.macaranga.org/in-defence-of-orang-asli-rights/

[26] Mongabay. Indigenous groups, activists risk arrest to blockade logging in Malaysia (Harbinson 2019). (Accessed on: May 18, 2021).
https://news.mongabay.com/2017/05/indigenous-groups-activists-risk-arrest-to-blockade-logging-in-malaysia/

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Video: Threats faced by Orang Asli
https://www.klimaactionmalaysia.org/post/ancaman-yang-dihadapi-orang-asli-di-gua-musang-kelantan

Video: Siti Kasim filming Kelantan police at Orang Asli blockade
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y0velPoAxH4

Media campaign
https://www.facebook.com/BlocksToBlock/

Meta information

Contributor:Dalena Tran, ICTA-UAB, [email protected]
Last update02/05/2021
Conflict ID:5535

Images

 

Siti Kasim

Lawyer Siti Kasim far right inspects a log stack together with Temiar men from the region of Pos Gob district in Kelantan state, West Malaysia. Photo by Rod Harbinson

Orang Asli collecting evidence

Photos, videos and geospatial evidence gathered by the Orang Asli of Kampung Ong Jangking and Sungai Papan show the extent of environmental damage caused by logging. Photo by Johari Aluej

Blockade

Protestors in front of blockade. Photo by Siti Kasim

Destroyed blockade

Photo by Malaysiakini