GEORGE TOWN: A heritage group said it was “dismayed” with the Penang government for not following through on the listing of Pulau Jerejak as a Unesco World Heritage Site (WHS).
The Penang Heritage Trust (PHT) said this was a missed opportunity for Penang to have the former penal and leprosy colony recognised globally.
It said Jerejak could have been jointly listed with the Sungai Buloh Leprosarium, which has been placed under WHS’ “tentative list”.
It said the Penang government had recently stated it was not interested in listing Jerejak in the near future and felt this was wrong.
PHT said the joint listing of Jerejak and Sungai Buloh would have been seen as being unique as the two had been leprosarium colonies which were instrumental in preventing a leprosy outbreak in 19th century Malaya.
It said George Town’s listing under WHS had revitalised heritage preservation efforts in the state’s capital and the same could be done for Jerejak.
“Jerejak’s history in leprosy precedes that of Sungai Buloh and it is important that this is preserved, both locally and globally.
“The changes that occurred in Jerejak, including turning it into a quarantine camp, tuberculosis sanatorium and a detention centre, further show that it is a part of Penang’s history that is worth preserving.
“Pulau Jerejak also has more than 5,000 graves of mixed faiths, including Muslims, Christians and Buddhists.
“We are dismayed that Penang CM Chow Kon Yeow has once again dismissed efforts to list Pulau Jerejak as a WHS,” PHT said in a statement.
Chow had told a press conference on June 12 that his government “had no plan to be part of the submission” for Jerejak’s listing as a WHS. He was responding to a question whether Penang would follow Sungai Buloh’s footsteps in nominating Jerejak for WHS.
PHT also reminded the state government that the planned developments, such as luxury condominiums, resorts and a bridge to connect with the main island, could “come in conflict” with any proposals to turn Jerejak into a heritage site.
“If the heritage of Jerejak is not preserved, it will be a disservice to Malaysians as Sungai Buloh’s chances for World Heritage listing could also be adversely affected.”
It said Penangites deserved well-balanced development for the island that incorporated its heritage and natural treasure, instead of hasty developments that will wipe out the history of Jerejak forever.
Jerejak is a largely untouched island off Penang island’s eastern coast.
Jerejak, once known as “Malaysia’s Alcatraz”, housed the country’s main leprosy sanatorium in 1868. The sanatorium, which was one of the earliest in the country, was built using funds collected by Chinese businessmen in Penang.
Five leprosy camps were also built on the island.
The island was also once a quarantine centre for immigrants entering Malaya and later used as a prison location. This practice ended in the 1990s.
In 2004, a resort was built on the west coast facing Penang island but it closed down in May 2016.
A shipyard on the east coast of Jerejak has been in existence from the 1970s until today.
For now, the state has approved a bridge linking Jerejak to Penang island, the building of 1,200 residential units, a theme park, a marina, four-star and five-star hotels and a cycling track.