Borneo Indigenous leaders arrested

January 12, 2011

Nicholas Mujah has been arrested for ‘possession of seditious materials’. ©  Anon

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Police in Sarawak, in the Malaysian part of Borneo, have arrested two Indigenous leaders for possession of ‘seditious materials’.

The offices of the Sarawak Dayak Iban Association (SADIA) were raided and its secretary, Nicholas Mujah, arrested along with two others, while Indigenous lawyer Abun Sui Anyit was arrested at a Sarawak airport last Thursday. The two men were held separately and questioned, then released on bail. Abun Sui Anyit was called for further questioning by police yesterday.

A SADIA staff member and an election observer, who were also arrested at the SADIA office, were not questioned.

Mujah and Anyit both had CDs containing recordings of independent radio and television broadcasts.

Sarawak’s Indigenous peoples, including the Iban and the hunter-gatherer Penan tribe, have seen much of their rainforest destroyed by logging companies licensed by the state government. Palm oil companies, also with government backing, are now establishing plantations on Indigenous land.

Nicholas Mujah said today, ‘I am asking the international community to focus your hearts on the suffering of Indigenous peoples in Sarawak, Malaysia. The government has renewed its aggressive activities among Indigenous activists and rights defenders because of the upcoming election. We are struggling for survival and fighting legal battles against the government over our ancestral land, to stop it being taken from us.’

The Sarawak government has repeatedly curtailed the civil rights of those who oppose its policies. More than a hundred members of the Penan tribe were arrested in 1987 when they mounted road blockades to try to keep logging companies out of their forests.

Sarawak’s state elections are due to take place by July this year. The state’s Chief Minister Taib Mahmud has been in power since 1981.

Survival’s director Stephen Corry said today, ‘Taib Mahmud is facing increasing criticism of his government’s total disregard for Indigenous peoples’ rights. Arresting their leaders is unlikely to boost his popularity.’