Press Statement 

Restricting Siti Kasim’s access to Orang Asli arbitrary and bad faith

14 October 2016

Lawyers for Liberty is extremely concerned with the Kelantan State Forestry Department’s action in blocking lawyer Siti Kasim from entering into the Balah forest reserve on 12 and 13 October in order to meet her Temiar Orang Asli clients.

Her clients’ community are in the midst of an ongoing protest against the devastation and indiscriminate logging done within their customary lands in the forest reserve. She is also a member of the Bar Council’s Committee on Orang Asli Rights.

Siti has been providing legal assistance to the Orang Asli community for several years now and has not had any restriction imposed on her movement in and out of the forest reserve. More recently, Siti has been visiting them in order to take instructions on commencing legal action to enforce their customary land rights. The sudden restriction imposed has also prevented numerous other parties who are concerned with the well-being of the Orang Asli including NGOs delivering food aid as well as traders to the Balah forest reserve.

The restriction imposed on Siti and other “outsiders”, purportedly applied under section 47 of the National Forestry Act 1984 can only be described as arbitrary and done in bad faith as it is designed to stop the Orang Asli from receiving “outside” assistance in their struggle to protect their customary lands and traditional livelihoods. It is also clearly a form of retaliation against Siti for her efforts that had made national news and had put the Kelantan government in bad light.

Freedom of movement is a guaranteed right under Article 9(2) of the Federal Constitution and can only be restricted for the security of the Federation, public order, public health or the punishment of offenders. Clearly, none of the restrictions apply to Siti and others who are out to assist the Orang Asli. Further, by preventing the Orang Asli from access to their legal counsel, their right under Article 5 of the Constitution has been breached.

The problems facing the Orang Asli in Balah forest reserve are extremely serious, and constitute yet another example of the irresponsible manner in which Orang Asli customary lands and traditional livelihoods are dealt with by the authorities.

Lawyers for Liberty calls on the Malaysian and Kelantan governments to acknowledge the fact that these Orang Asli communities have rights over their customary lands, as already recognised by the highest courts of the land. The Constitution guarantees all citizens, including the Orang Asli, the right to life, equality and property, and that both state and federal governments have a duty to protect and promote these rights.

Released by:
Eric Paulsen
Executive Director
Lawyers for Liberty

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