Sarawak police raided a village and detained five people whose names were not even in the report filed by a plantation company for allegedly burning a bridge.
KUCHING: Some 500 angry villagers with their children from Melikin and nearby longhouses in Serian and Simunjan stormed the Serian police station yesterday, demanding the release of five individuals who were detained on Sunday night for allegedly causing a fire.
The villagers learnt that the five – Sanjan Ambol, 58, Musit Ngawing, 52, Tuai Rumah Nyalu Tampa, 55, Samad Junna, 41, and Singa Unsit, 58, – were to be charged at the Serian district court. All five were villagers from Melikin, Danau Melikin and Ensebang Plaie.
The villagers first went to the Serian district office, but on hearing that they were still being detained at the Serian police station, they rushed there and demanded that the detainees be released immediately.
The police had to restrain the angry villagers from entering the police compound and even threatened to arrest them, but they ignored the warning.
The five detainees were released at about 11am without any charge being framed against them despite being remanded for three days.
Freed detainee longhouse chief Nyalu Tampa expressed surprise to see so many people had come to support them.
“Their support gives us strength and makes us more determined to defend our NCR [native customary rights] land,” he said.
The detainees’ lawyer, See Chee How, said that they were arrested on Sunday night after representatives of United Teamtrade Oil Palm Company lodged a report that a bridge to the plantation was burnt.
“My clients should not have been arrested in the middle of the night when the police have not carried out investigation first.
“They simply arrested them based on a report lodged by the company, and without concrete evidence. Moreover, this is not a serious crime.
“Why can’t they wait until the next morning? I can even ask my clients to surrender themselves to any police station,” said See, who is also Sarawak PKR vice-Chairman and the Batu Lintang assemblyman.
See said that he received a call on Sunday night from one of the villagers telling him that the police were at the village to arrest the five persons.
He said he spoke to Inspector Azlan Abdul Wahab who led the police party and asked him why they were arresting the villagers for a minor act.
He told Azlan that they could have just asked the individuals to surrender themselves in the morning.
“But he told me that his instruction was for him to arrest them immediately. I asked him who was his superior so that I could talk to him.
“Azlan told me that his instruction was very strict, and could not tell me, ” said See.
He added that he informed Azlan that the police action was malicious and illegal.
“Moreover, no one has been identified in the police report made by the company.
“It is very malicious on the part of Azlan [to arrest the villagers]. I hope that he was not instructed by a senior police officer because it is bad.
“You have not done any investigation and yet you arrest them. That is illegal,” he said.
Besides questioning the legality of the arrest, See also questioned the rationale for bringing the five detainees all the way to Tebedu sub-district for the application of a remand order.
He said when he went to Serian on Monday, the application for the remand order was not done in Serian because the district officer who is also the magistrate was not in Serian.
The police, he said, could have asked the Tebedu Sarawak Administrative Officer come down, but they did not do it.
“Why did the police want to make it so difficult? They could also have taken the five villagers to the Balai Ringin sub-district which is a stone’s throw from Melikin.
“But when you apply for a remand order, you must first carry out an investigation and tell the magistrate why you need it.
“The police should have investigated the detainees during the night, but they did not do it,” said See.
Legal action against cops
See said the five detainees have instructed him to take legal action against the company and the government for taking away their land as well as against the police for arresting them without proof.
The dispute between the company and the native landowners has reached a critical point after the company issued a notice demanding anyone riding a motorcycle using the company’s road will have to pay RM5 per entry.
For cars, the drivers have to pay RM30 and for 4WD vehicles, the drivers will have to pay RM50 per entry.
The toll has angered the people who have lands and farms at the other side of the plantation and in retaliation, the native landowners mounted a blockade to stop the company from using their road to the plantation.
[Photo showing arrested native villagers is from Sarawak Indigenous Community News website]