Don’t side with loggers when confronting Orang Asli, Waytha tells cops

P Waytha Moorthy says the highest courts have recognised Orang Asli customary land rights as being superior and superseding the rights of the state governments under the Federal Constitution.

PETALING JAYA: Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department P Waytha Moorthy has urged the police to be sympathetic to the plight of the Orang Asli involved in blockades against logging.

He urged them not “to become embroiled in this type of controversies that make it appear that they are siding with the loggers”.

He urged police to release three Temiar Orang Asli reported to have been arrested at the Kampung Bukit Papan blockade site this morning.

Waytha, the minister in charge of Orang Asli welfare and interests, said “these are defenceless people who are only protecting their customary land by putting up blockades”.

“They don’t deserve to be arrested in protecting their rights,” he said in a statement issued today.

The minister said the new government is committed to ensuring the Orang Asli are treated with dignity and their rights respected.

Waytha said time and time again, the highest court in Malaysia has recognised the Orang Asli customary land rights as superior and supersedes the right of the state governments under the Federal Constitution.

He said government agencies, as well as state menteris besar, the Forestry Department and the police, do not wholly comprehend the provisions of the constitution and the decided case laws which favour the rights of Orang Asli over the rights of the authorities.

“The new government promised to protect the rights of Orang Asli and to this end a Conference on Orang Asli was organised for the first time on April 22, opened by Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohammad.

“At this conference, the government gave its assurance that the rights of Orang Asli would be protected.”

Waytha said Mahathir had always stressed the importance of protecting the rule of law. Hence, all parties, including the authorities, must respect legal principles laid down by the highest court in Malaysia in accordance with the Federal Constitution.

“I sincerely urge the state authorities, that is the menteris besar, to recognise these customary lands and protect the rights of Orang Asli.

“Until the legal boundary of Orang Asli’s land rights are determined, I am of the view it is illegal for state authorities to unilaterally grant permits for developers to encroach and exploit the rights of these defenceless people without prior informed consent.”

Bernama reported that the three Orang Asli were released after their statements had been taken by police today in connection with a blockade put up on Thursday to prevent logging activities on a 42ha site at Kampung Papan, Gerik.

The three men were taken to the Gerik police station after loggers lodged a police report about a wooden blockade put up to prevent access to the area.

Perak police chief Razarudin Husain said the three Orang Asli were believed to have incited others to put up the blockade.

He said the logging activities were believed to have been approved by the state government and had begun a year ago.