Penan tribe arrested outside government offices in Borneo

September 16, 2009

The Penan have been struggling for decades to prevent the destruction of their land. © Survival 2009

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The arrested Indigenous people and activists have been released on bail and charged with illegal assembly. The group, who number 15 people, are due to appear in court on 29 September. They maintain that they have committed no crime. Survival has written to the Malaysian government expressing its concern over the arrests.


At least fourteen people, including six members of the Penan tribe, were arrested in Malaysia today as they tried to voice their opposition to hydroelectric dams that will force them off their land.

The group of Indigenous people and activists were arrested outside the offices of the Chief Minister of the state of Sarawak, in the Malaysian part of Borneo. They were attempting to hand in a statement calling on the government to stop the construction of dams that are to flood the land of many Penan and other tribespeople, destroying their forest and burial grounds. Over 600 Penan have added their signatures to the protest.

Raymond Abin of the Sarawak Conservation Action Network was one of those arrested. Speaking from police custody, he told Survival that they had not been allowed to hand in the statement, so had waited outside. After four hours, the Chief Minister’s office called the police and they were arrested. No charges had so far been made against them.

One Penan man told Survival earlier this year, ‘This land is my ancestral land. It has been used by Penan for ten generations. We don’t want to move, and we don’t want to give this land to anyone.’ The people of his village have been told they must move to make way for the Murum dam, which is already being built by the controversial Chinese state-owned China Three Gorges Project Corporation.

Survival’s director Stephen Corry said today, ‘Survival is extremely concerned that the Penan and others have been arrested for trying to voice their concerns about these dams which, if completed, will devastate their lives. Instead of locking them up, the Malaysian government should listen to them.’

In a separate development, Malaysian police are reported to have dismantled three road blockades mounted in August by twelve Penan communities against the logging and plantation companies that are destroying their forest.

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