PETALING JAYA: Samling Plywood has dropped its defamation suit against indigenous grassroots organisation SAVE Rivers.
The suit scheduled in the Miri High Court today was cancelled due to a last-minute settlement between the two parties, followed by a joint statement by both parties.
“Both parties to the suit agree that the welfare of the local community remains their priority.
“Samling welcomes constructive comments and feedback from the local community and will be glad to engage with all relevant stakeholders for the betterment of the local community henceforth and into the future,” read the joint statement.
Samling had initially sought an apology, an injunction against SAVE Rivers from reporting community claims under its #StopTheChop campaign, and damages amounting to RM5 million, which is about 45 times SAVE Rivers’ annual budget.
The contested articles and community claims on the SAVE Rivers website remain unchanged, detailing inadequate community consultations in Samling’s logging concessions and its poor handling of community complaints.
In April, 160 civil society organisations urged the Miri-based timber company to withdraw its suit against SAVE Rivers and its board for defamation.
Concurrently, an international email petition was launched for individuals who want to support the campaign.
Gerenai Community Rights Action Committee vice-president Boyce Ngau said it was a “huge victory” for SAVE Rivers and the communities.
“The communities are happy that SAVE Rivers is committed to continuing its duty as a civil society organisation to disseminate information and advocate for indigenous peoples and environmental rights,” Ngau said.
Giovanni Reyes, chair of the Global Environmental Facility’s Indigenous Peoples Advisory Group, was among those who attended the scheduled trial in Miri.
“Samling’s website is full of statements about the environment and sustainability. But by suing SAVE Rivers, they have proven that these are all just empty promises and that their forest certification is a sham,” Reyes was quoted as saying.
Meanwhile, Sahabat Alam Malaysia president Meenakshi Raman said “the withdrawal of the suit shows that people’s power reigns and corporations should think twice before filing any vexatious lawsuits against environmental defenders”.
She said the aim should be to prioritise the environment, not silence critics.