Sarawak Report has set up a Go Fund Me campaign to save one of Sarawak’s bravest campaigners, Dennis Along, from being thrown into jail because he cannot pay a RM10,000 fine imposed by the courts for daring to challenge a land grab by the ruling Taib family of his community’s customary lands, seized to build the ‘Royal’ Mulu Hotel.
It has taken nearly three decades for the community to grind their protests through the legal system with their numerous attempts to counter this seizure of their lands. Such is the level of obstruction and the pace of justice in Malaysia, not helped by the total poverty of the plaintiffs trying to save their lands and culture.
However, when the matter finally reached a judge this month the court threw out the case on the grounds it was ‘time expired’ and then demanded that the leading activist behind the case, Dennis Along, be punished with a RM10,000 to be paid to the State Government and the Taib family company that acquired the land.
Dennis is one of the high number of of people with kidney disease in Sarawak and he is forced to undergo hours of dialysis in Miri far from his village three times a week. It has left him with swollen veins across his body and he is unable to earn a regular living as a result of these huge challenges and hours in hospital.
Instead, he has bravely championed the rights of his native community, often writing from his hospital bed. Many of those he has stood up and fought for over the loss of their lands have themselves grown old and died, he says, given the struggle for justice has taken so long.
However, this has resulted in little mercy from the court that has not only rebuffed his case, but punished him for his impudence with this RM10,000 fine that signifies more than what most in his community could hope to earn in a single year.
Meanwhile, the powerful in Sarawak continue to make billions from logging out the lands, planting damaging fast-grow plantations and running businesses, such as this hotel.
If Dennis does not pay – which he cannot – then he faces bankruptcy and jail, he says. This is his punishment for championing the rights of his native people against the greedy rape of their lands by outsiders like the Taibs.
“If I am thrown into jail I do not know how long I will be there or if I can gain my dialysis treatment sufficient to stay alive”
Dennis has told Sarawak Report.
For this reason, Sarawak Report and Miri PKR MP, Michael Teo, have contributed to kick-off a fundraiser to support Dennis pay his fine as soon as possible. The deadline has already expired, however he was granted extra time owing to the state election.
We petition as many people as possible to help with what little they can so that together we can raise the RM10,000 as soon as possible to save Dennis from this vicious threat of jail, humiliation and bankruptcy.
For those interested in the background, the scandal of the ‘Royal Mulu’ land grab has haunted Sarawak for years as an emblem of the exploitation by the Taib family of its political control over the state in order to grab lands and resources for themselves.
The area, part of which has been turned into a national park to benefit the hotel (now sold to Marriott who run it as an ‘eco-resort’), was alienated to themselves by the Taib family in the early 90s in return for a pittance of just RM80 per acre compensation to the local Berawan tribespeople who claimed Native Customary Rights to the lands.
At the time these penniless tribal communities had no means to stand up to the Chief Minister cum Finance Minister cum Natural Resources and Planning Minister of the state, Taib Mahmud (who was also Chairman of the Land Custody and Development Authority and in charge of the Land & Survey Department).
The resort project was handily funded through a joint venture with Sarawak Economic Development Council (accessing more public resources for the project) and then passed into the hands of several of Taib’s family members.
As exposed by Sarawak Report, Taib himself became one of those shareholders, although it formed just a fragment of Taib’s billionaire wealth following his rags to riches ‘fairytale’ story thanks to the wealth he has accumulated from public office.
The dispossessed people of the Berawan community over the years gradually rallied to protest the land snatch and the outrageously mean compensation, eventually ending up in court. However the State Government under Taib has steadily passed bill after bill to remove protective native land rights in order to justify the resource grabs that have enriched the politicians, their families and all their business cronies across the state.
And when at last the campaigners reached the courts their rebuff was swift. They were ruled too late in bringing their case, despite all the obstacles they have faced.
It may be galling for ordinary folk to put their hand in pocket to pay a fine exacted on behalf of the Sarawak State Government and the billionaire Taib family to punish those who attempted to stand up to their rapacious plunder.
Taib Mahmud has famously spoken about how he and his family have “done well” and that he could never spend all the money that he has made out of plundering Sarawak. He could have stepped in to pay this fine without a thought, which would have been one way to show some magnanimity. However, instead, he plainly plans to see Dennis and his people suffer punishment for standing up to his own criminal kleptocracy.
Such is the mean injustice inflicted by the powerful in Sarawak and such is the reason why few communities dared to stand up to these ruling thugs in the recent State Election.
However, by supporting Dennis and helping him to avoid imprisonment those many people who care about justice and about Sarawak and its people can send their message to the Billionaire Bullies who seek to break the spirit of the people.
Soon real justice must prevail.