The Penan have regularly mounted blockades to stop the destruction of their forest
The Penan have regularly mounted blockades to stop the destruction of their forest © Survival

More than 150 Penan tribespeople blocked roads in Borneo on Thursday, in protest at the destruction of their rainforest by logging companies, and at the Malaysian government’s failure to protect their land.

The protestors were marking the anniversary of previous road blockades a year ago, which brought the logging industry in the area to a halt. Last year’s blockades were dismantled at the insistence of police and government officials.

Controversial Malaysian logging giant Samling is one of the companies active in the area. The Norwegian government announced last month that it had excluded Samling from its pension fund on ethical grounds.

When the 2009 blockades ended, Sarawak state assemblyman Lihan Jok promised to help the Penan meet with the authorities to discuss their land rights, and to help with funds for the development of their communities. But he did not keep his promises, and in December last year he was quoted in Malaysia’s Star newspaper saying that the Penan must ‘stop living in the jungles.’

A Penan woman from Long Nen told Survival, ‘We didn’t want to open the blockade, but while we were going to meet Lihan Jok the police flew in a helicopter and opened the blockade. More than 12 four wheel drive cars with police and forestry people went to the blockade and opened it.’

Panai Ayat of the Sarawak Penan Association said in a statement last week, ‘The blockades last year were erected firstly, to demand
that the Sarawak State Government must recognize that we have the right to make our own decisions in relation to our NCR [native customary rights] land, and secondly, to ask that logging activities and the encroachments into our NCR land be immediately halted in order to prevent starvation incidences…

‘Many of us have gone to prison for defending our rights to this land. Thus, we will continue defending our rights for the rest of our lives.’