The once proud, well-trained Sarawak police force are now mere lackeys of the timber companies, as events yesterday make only too obvious.
The Penan, who have been erecting peaceful jungle blockades in protest at the savage destruction of their hereditory lands, were yesterday confronted in Long Sebayang, Limbang by gun-waving policemen. They were acting on behalf of Lee Ling Timber, the other party to the dispute.
According to the respected Swiss Charity the Bruno Manser Foundation, the unprofessional, threatening and downright illegal episode came in the wake of an attack the previous day by a logging company employee on one of the Penan. The tribesman (and rightful owner of the land, according to Native Customary Rights recently upheld in the Federal Malay Court) had been viciously hit in the face.
However, instead of investigating that crime the police came to show their solidarity with the timber company. Such was their lack of impartiality and lack of professional pride that these officers even allowed themselves to be transported to the area by timber company lorries rather than their own vehicles. After shouting and threatening the Penan the police then stood by as the company officials threatened to come back again soon with ‘more gangsters’ – implying very accurately that these police had been the first gangsters!
The Penan have gained international respect because of their Ghandi-style passive resistance to the logging companies. But their problems reflect what has happened to hundreds of thousands of tribespeople across Sarawak, who have been turfed off their lands by greedy companies backed by Taib Mahmud and his cronies. Ask the Iban, Kayan and Kenya communities if they received any of the rich profits from timber or oil palm. Meanwhile, the Taibs’ foreign tower blocks are what Sarawak now has to show for what was once arguably the most magnificent tropical rainforest paradise in the world.
The Penan have been brutally treated by the invading timber companies. They are threatened by gangsters, their women have been systematically raped and their livelihoods removed. Yet the police have never investigated these appalling crimes, despite a huge volume of evidence from independent and official bodies.
It is possible that the men who turned up claiming to be police at Long Sebayang were in fact just gangsters themselves. If so where are the real police who should be sorting out such behaviour by timber companies?
These gangsters and the authorities too need to be mindful, because the world is moving on. Episodes like yesterday’s would once have remained hidden in dark and distant jungles, but these days such incidents, are reported within hours. Already news of this event is crossing the world and protests are being raised on an international level. How long can the reputation of Malaysia withstand such shocking behaviour in Sarawak?