Monday, December 11, 2023

HR Victory against logging for Human Rights and Enviromental Rights Defenders of Kampung Baharu, Jerantut - Logging plans stopped?

Victory for human rights - For human rights and environmental rights Defenders against logging companies....

The people from a Malay kampung who fought against the logging planned in the forest 'reserve' beside their village have WON. Logging plans have been abandoned... And the forest have been classified a 'forest reserve' and a new signboard have been erected recently, but strangely it says that the forest reserve had been gazetted since 1980??? So, how come the Pahang State government issued a logging permit with regard the same forest area....

This community of ordinary Malay villagers have been protesting plans for the logging of the forest adjacent to their village for a long time since about 2013 - long before the State decided to compartmentalize the forest and issue a logging permit. 
The signboard clearly states that the forest was classified a forest reserve sometime in 1980 BUT the signboard is erected only about a year ago after the people won - and logging had stopped.

The community depended on water that is directly piped from the forest reserve for drinking, cooking and other household use. The cost of laying the pipes was from their own pocket. There was a problem with water pressure that meant that the community could not get piped water provided by the relevant State authority - forcing them to rely on water from the forest that they piped to their homes.

Given the fact of this natural clean water source from the forest also impacted their income generation activities - fish farms, fish breeding activities, etc.. > all of which are dependent on the clean water, and the people also suffered when a road was built before by logging companies contaminated the water and affected their income generating activities.

The community also actively did research on their own, and found evidence that the said forest was apparently a water catchment area, where logging and clearing of the forest should reasonably be prohibited. They relied on old documents/maps of the relevant State authority - but could not get access to the new documents that would have confirmed their position that this was indeed a protected forest - which ought not be logged or cleared.

They also managed to document the existence of highly endangered bird species - the helmeted horn bill. There were also other unique(ought to be protected) plant and animal species in the said forest.
The people were strong in their opposition to logging - and also resisted efforts (including 'bribes', etc) by parties to sign letters stating that the village had no opposition to the logging of the forest. 
Some nearby village heads or committees were not as strong and succumbed to signing letters of no objection to the logging... [Problem that arises when village leadership are appointed by State and not democratically elected. Did these village heads and/or committee even consult or discuss with the people before giving their consent to logging or other 'development' projects - after all they may not want to offend the 'appointing authority, the State' ...and sometimes monies, 'bribes', and other wrongful reasons could be the reason by providing such letters of consent to logging. The people have the RIGHT to take legal action against such village leaders who by their actions 'STOLE' the peoples' right of participation including right to object. There must be DEMOCRATIC ELECTIONS of village heads/committees - when will we have it?  
Because of this particular community's consistent protest, the relevant State authorities, despite already issuing the logging permit did not agree to the commencement of the logging activities. The permission that the loggers obtained was a permission once was only to construct a logging road - which had a strict condition that logging activities will not commence.
What lead to the Legal Action in the HIGH COURT?  Was it simply a evil strategy to end the peoples' right to protest, and the peoples' right to participate in decision-making that may negatively impact their livelihood?
Then, on one day, the loggers' agent allegedly took a heavy machinery, and placed it in front of one of the houses of the community - despite being able to place it some distance away closer to the forest away from any of the homes of the community. Why did the logging company do this is still a mystery??
When this happened, several members of the community naturally came out to esquire what was happening as there was still no go ahead from the relevant authorities to begin logging. According to the community, there was no violence - let alone raising of voices. It was very reasonable and civil  - merely verbal questioning as to what was happening. {If the trial had continued, then maybe the truth would have come out....]

But then, later it was discovered that one of the logger's agent had filed a police report alleging the people of the community had blocked the workers, harassed, etc...

The police then contacted and told representatives of the community to come to the police station to come to the police station to assist in the investigations.

That evening, when some of the members of the community went to the police station, they were arrested and after being questioned they were told that they will not be released on police bail until they managed to furnish a surety for every 2 persons. [This was most ODD as normally in such situation where the people were cooperative, the police would have simply released them on personal bond. In fact, the police would not have even arrested anyone. Remember, former Prime Minister Najib who is now serving prison sentence was allegedly never even arrested, let alone asked to furnish any 'police bail' or sureties.]. So, why did the police do this - was there 'compliance' with the loggers or even parties who wanted end of protest/objections so logging could proceed?

Later (if not mistaken the following day) the State Forest Department  issued a letter, wherein he seem to have concluded that what was alleged was true (when even at that stage, the police was still investigating and never came to any conclusions as to the truth of what was alleged in the police report). 
The letter also told the loggers that all permissions given was revoked until the matter was settled - note that at this stage the only consent that had been given is the permission to build the logging road(whereby that too may have long lapsed) - and there was yet no permission for logging as the authorities were still in the process of dealing with the complaints/issues raised by the affected community.

Then 2 alleged logging contractors of the logging permit holder(the Plaintiffs) then filed a civil suit at the Kuantan High Court, and 8 members of the community were named as Defendants which included the core leaders of the protest against logging.
The Plaintiffs also applied for an ex-parte injunction that in essence prevented the Defendants from blocking the Plaintiff's workers and agents from from entering the forest and working to remove the forest products(logs), publishing or providing information or pictures that were allegedly false online including on a Facebook page, preventing the Defendants from doing anything including communicating with the relevant authorities to interfere with approval and rights given by authorities concerning the logging.
Thus, the Plaintiffs' actions seem to be an attempt try to STOP the protest and objections of the affected community concerning the logging. An interim injunction to prevent further interaction with the relevant government authorities was also odd. Sadly, the court granted this INTERIM injunction.
The Defendants were initially represented by a lawyer, possibly with good intentions, but sadly lacked the required skills and/or experience to be able to effectively protect the Defendants' rights...
Then, the Defendant  found lawyers who could help ensure justice but was willing to help as counsel - and the Defendants elected to act without a solicitor after discharging their first lawyer. 
To remedy the injustices, applications had to be made to get the case transferred to the Temerloh High Court(which was an hour away from where the Defendants lived, and where the said forest was) from the Kuantan High Court(which was about 3 hours away) - reasonably and justly the case should have been commenced at the Temerloh High Court.
As the previous lawyer had filed Defence and Counterclaim that was found to be much lacking, the Defendants had to make applications to amend the Defence and Counter-Claim filed by their previous lawyer.
There was also a need to file an application to JOIN as parties including the logging permit holder and other relevant parties in the suit, and other needed applications...[The Plaintiffs were after all the logging contractors, not the logging permit holder that had the logging rights.]

Some of the HURDLES when the poor or ordinary people are fighting in court battles > Cost/Time/Resources is a major concern. Filing applications in court, and/even filing appeals to the Court of Appeal in Putrajaya is 'expensive' - and then, when an application filed is dismissed by court, the fact that the court at the request of the Plaintiffs ordered COST, where amount is specified, is a deterrence - as the amount of monies, these people may have to pay ultimately impacts their will to struggle. This may lead to deciding not to file needed applications, or even appeals - all of which will cause the ultimate denial of justice. [Should there be reform here to make courts more accessible to the ordinary man/woman? Should COST be 'abolished' to ensure money does not stand in the way of justice?]

ANYWAY - by reason of matters that were HIGHLIGHTED in this case - the State decided to stop the logging - possibly a cancellation/revocation of the logging permit - the gazetting the forest as a FOREST RESERVE, safe from the threat of logging.

The members of the community that was sued by the 'logging contractors' disclosed that the case has been withdrawn, with the Defendants not required to pay anything. They say that the Plaintiffs also indicated that they will be paid compensations - but apparently they have yet to receive anything.

Some relevant facts that emerged as a result of investigations:-

1 - The State government gave the logging permit to the 'Pengurus Besar Yayaysan Pahang - General Manager of Yayasan Pahang(Yayasan Pahang is a State Foundation whose main focus is education) - but logging permits can only be given to named persons or legal entities - BUT the General Manager is but a position and was not such a person or legal entity - HENCE, the Permit itself would be void, which meant that the Plaintiffs, who alleged to be logging contractors of the logging permit holder may likely have no rights to commence the suit, as the logging rights flows from the logging permit holder.
# One who cannot sue or be sued CANNOT be granted a logging permit. How could they even appoint logging contractors??? It is the logging permit holder that appoints logging contractors to do the work..

2. There was apparently no Environmental Impact Assessment(EIA) or Social Impact Assessment done before the decision was made to log the forest. It is SAD but State Governments do tend to avoid EIAs which is required for forest of a certain acreage - by 'compartmentalizing'(dividing up the forest to portions that will escape the mandatory requirement of EIAs) - hence undermining the objects  of EIAs to protect the environment, and avoiding considerations of the negative impact of a project to people and/or environment... State governments should never try to avoid EIAs and Social Impact Assessments...

[It must be noted that the forest and logging comes under the jurisdiction of the State, not the Federal Government. Federal laws have no relevance unless the state enacts a 'similar' enactment...Will the current PM Anwar Ibrahim led Pakatan Harapan-led Unity government change these past practices of State governments to avoid EIAs, etc - Note, the State of Pahang is now also part of this Coalition or Unity government]

3. There is a LACK of transparency - and it makes it difficult for the ordinary person to find out whether the particular forest in protected from being logged because of various reasons. The information can be found in State Gazettes - but finding and getting access is most difficult.
[NEEDED REFORMS include making easily available Federal and State Gazettes to the Public - so that the people know what has been gazetted including status of forests and other land - including if and when the status is changed by the State. Maybe State Governments should make all State Laws(and Regulations) including State Gazettes are easily available to people for free even ONLINE. The object of gazetting is to communicate to the public decisions of the government, is it not - hence ODD if access of the public to these gazettes are hard??? ]
 - surely the people ought to have a right to participate in such decision making in a democracy >> the State should never be free to change the status of forest(or land) 'secretly' without first informing the people and getting their participation in decision makings. ]

4. The other problem that arose is the lack of a speedy FORMAL response when the people sent petitions/complaints to the State government, the Chief Minister(Menteri Besar) or any other relevant State departments/officers or Federal Ministries/Ministers - When a complaint or issue is raised, it is fundamental that the member of administration, public officer, department/Ministry investigate and provide a DECISION - as there is the right for the public to APPEAL to higher authorities if dissatisfied with that decision, but if no decision is made and communicated, the RIGHT of the complainant/public is violated.

A decision of a State department/officer is appealable to the State Chief Minister(Menteri Besar) - and after the State makes a decision, and one is still unhappy, then there is the right to take the matter to court for a JUDICIAL REVIEW.
By staying silent, delaying an official decision, etc - it is a violation of Human Rights. In this matter, despite letters/petitions being sent - there was an absence of the needed response or DECISION on the issues/complaints raised, hence the deprivation of the right of appeal to higher government authorities, and the delay and deprivation of the right to a Judicial Review.
5. How the court process can be unfair to the poor? The Defendants(HR Defenders) suffered many 'setbacks' and hurdles in court - when applications in court were denied, they were burdened with COST that had to be paid to the Plaintiffs, and if unsatisfied with the decision of the High Court, one can appeal to the Court of Appeal(which means additional cost, monies and resources) - in short, getting justice through the courts is never easy or even affordable for the ordinary lay person who is poor or financially constraint  - more so the poor people of the communities.
6. A FAIR TRIAL is denied if there are obstructions that prevent the parties from even communicating with relevant public officers and state authorities. In this case, the Plaintiffs' asserted that such communications, even for the preparation for the full trial, was a breach of the interim injunction the court had previously granted. How then can the Defendants get justice when their ability to investigate, meet and communicate with relevant witnesses is hindered?  The Court, in my opinion, should never had granted such an injunction ...
Now, for the sake of preparation for trial - the Defendant and/or lawyer had to communicate with all potential witnesses and persons relevant including public officers ...BUT then when this happened, the Plaintiffs commenced CONTEMPT PROCEEDINGS against the lawyer and all Defendants asserting that such actions went against the interim injunction order.... However, on the day of the hearing for leave to commence contempt proceedings, the Plaintiff suddenly withdrew the said applications... The intention to commenced proceedings against the LAWYER and the 8 Defendants resulted in great publicity - and HIGHLIGHTED  the entire case >> a factor that saw a lot of support pouring in not just in Malaysia but also overseas...and this may have contributed to the victory for human rights and environmental rights defenders being MOHAMAD HAFIZI BIN ROSNAN, SAIFULNIZAM BIN SULAIMAN, MOHAMED BIN SAID, MOHAMED ZARRIF BIN MAHMUD, SUKMARIZAL BIN NAZMAN, SHUKRAN FIRDAUS BIN NAZMAN, MOHAMMAD ZAKIRIN BIN HASAN, and MOHAMAD LOZI BIN MOHD NASIR
There are other matters that could be learned...

ANYWAY...getting to the end of things. The Plaintiffs withdrew the suit, and informed the Defendants that they will also get compensations - but allegedly the Defendants did not yet receive any monies as compensation...

The logging permit allegedly has been revoked - there will be no logging of the said forest. The community said that the forest will be protected - it will be accorded the status of a forest reserve... then the signboard was placed by the authorities...
YES - these community and human rights Defenders suffered much in terms of time, monies, etc but they stayed strong in the fight ... and they are VICTORIOUS.
LESSON LEARNT - If you stand up and fight for human rights and environmental rights without fear or favour, you can win...
Happy Human Rights Day 
Maybe Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim and the 'UNITY' government should give them a HUMAN RIGHTS AWARD - which will also encourage the people to STAND UP FOR HUMAN RIGHTS even when the State is part of the perpetrator. 

This is my personal opinion and writing, based on facts that are in my knowledge.

Logging firms sue Jerantut villagers in row over forest reserve

Logging firms sue Jerantut villagers in row over forest reserve
Logging firms sue Jerantut villagers in row over forest reserve

Logging companies Beijing Million Sdn Bhd and Rosah Timber & Trading Sdn Bhd have filed legal action against eight individuals from Kampung Baharu in Jerantut, Pahang over allegations that the latter prevented the companies' workers and contractors from carrying out works in a nearby forest reserve.

The plaintiffs, through legal firm Jacob Goldie SS Chew, filed a writ of summons against the villagers at the Kuantan High Court on July 14.

According to the writ, the companies had applied an injunction order to stop the eight defendants from preventing the plaintiffs from accessing the forest area known as Kompartment 1A Hutan Simpan Jerantut Tambahan, Mukim Ulu Cheka, which covers 202.61 hectares.

The companies claimed to have obtained approvals from the Forestry Department through letters dated Sept 15, 2019.

They seek the court to stop the defendants from disseminating false information or pictures through the Facebook page "Bantah Pembalakan di Kawasan Tadahan Air di Kampung Baharu, Jerantut, Pahang" or any media.

The eight defendants are Mohamed Said, Mohamed Zarrif Mahmud, Mohamad Hafizi Rosnan, Saifulnizam Sulaiman, Sukmarizal Nazman, Shukran Firdaus Nazman, Mohammad Zakirin Hasan and Mohamad Lozi Mohd Nasir.

The writ stated that in April 2019, the plaintiffs learned about postings on the said Facebook page which hurled serious allegations against them.

Hence, the plaintiffs demanded general damages, aggravated damages and exemplary damages against the defendants.

However, in an affidavit dated Sept 28 by one of the defendants, Mohamad Hafizi, claimed that the plaintiffs had initiated the writ with ill-intention and wrongly applied for the ex-parte injunction without issuing notices to him and other defendants.

"I would like to state that other defendants and I believe that the plaintiffs' ill-intention is probably to deny the defendants' rights to oppose and highlight the issue.

"The defendants' hopes are that the forest and its nearby area which the locals rely on to earn a living should remain a forest reserve and be prohibited from logging," said Mohamad Hafizi in his affidavit sighted by Malaysiakini.

He added that if the logging activities were allowed, the locals would have to bear huge losses in economic activities and this would affect their fish farms.

Mohamad Hafizi said the villagers' protest against the logging in the forest area was conducted “legally and peacefully, where the focus was more towards the authorities, and/or the government”.

Villagers not consulted

He questioned the change of the forest status which had allowed the logging activity to take place without consulting the locals.

"I don't believe that the state government conducted an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) and/or Detailed Environment Impact Assessment (DEIA), social impacts, and other research on the impact of logging to the environment and the locals,” said Mohamad Hafizi.

"I have yet to access the documents which are needed by the locals for the evaluation purpose."

For the record, the case which was slated on Oct 12 was postponed after the defence legal firm Messrs Haris Salleh & Co withdrew from representing the defendants.

The case mention has been scheduled on Oct 22 at Kuantan High Court. - Malaysiakini/Yahoo News


End attempts to silence lawyer and human rights defender Charles Hector

Attempts to intimidate Malaysian lawyer and human rights defender Charles Hector for his work amount to harassment with the ultimate aim of silencing the people he represents, the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (Forum-Asia) and Front Line Defenders said in a joint statement on 24 March.

Human rights lawyer Charles Hector, along with eight defendants he is representing against logging companies, may face contempt charges for seeking clarifications over details contained in a letter sent by the Jerantut Forestry office.

The proceedings to initiate contempt charges were scheduled to take place on 25 March at the Kuantan High Court in Pahang, following a letter Hector had sent on behalf of his clients to an officer of the Jerantut Forestry office on 17 December 2020. In that letter, Hector sought further explanations on an earlier letter sent by the forestry officer in February 2020.

The plaintiffs behind the contempt proceedings are logging firms Beijing Million Sdn Bhd and Rosah Timber & Trading Sdn Bhd. They claim that Hector’s letter is a violation of a temporary injunction order obtained in November 2020, which, among others, stops the defendants from blocking the plaintiff’s workers from accessing a contested area in the Jerantut Permanent Forest Reserve.

The logging firms were appointed by the general manager of Yayasan Pahang (Pahang Foundation), the licence holder allowed to carry out logging in this forest. Yayasan Pahang is a statutory body of the Pahang state government.

‘The use of legal proceedings to curtail the crucial role of human rights lawyers highlights the continuous risk and intimidation they face in their work, particularly when they defend individuals in cases involving powerful businesses,’ said Shamini Darshni Kaliemuthu, executive director of Forum-Asia.

The eight defendants represented by Hector are from communities affected by potential logging activities in the Jerantut permanent forest reserve.

In February 2020, the logging firms accused the defendants of preventing their workers and contractors from accessing and carrying their work in the forest reserve, and for allegedly disseminating false information about them. The defendants have denied these allegations.

The defendants, a part of the community who have been protesting logging of the Jerantut permanent forest reserve since 2013, argue that the relevant authorities are still considering their objections and have not yet given permission to commence logging.

The defendants, along with their communities, depend on the forest reserve for clean water and their livelihood. They also assert that their protest activities have been legal and peaceful.

“Apart from intimidating lawyers, these actions by businesses result in disempowering vulnerable communities who depend on the forest reserve for their survival,” Shamini said.

Malaysia has faced widespread deforestation and forest shrinkage in years. Despite attempts to revise laws to ensure protection for the forests, deforestation and infringement on ancestral lands have continued. Human rights lawyers and environmental defenders fighting against these are increasingly being targeted by corporations.

Charles Hector is a human rights lawyer who has extensive experience defending the right to fundamental freedoms and the rights of indigenous peoples, migrants and refugees, and workers. He has been instrumental in improving mechanisms for access to lawyers and legal representation for the vulnerable.

“Targeting a human rights defender like Charles Hector, who defends other human rights defenders, is certainly a strategy to weaken the morale of the community protesting the harmful logging,” observed Olive Moore, deputy executive director of Front Line Defenders.

In Malaysia, without legislation to define contempt of court offences and penalties, sentences are arbitrary and can range from fines, prison terms and can lead to the revocation of one’s lawyer certificate.

“Amidst allegation of collusion between regional state authorities and corporations, the government of Malaysia must prove that it is able to prioritise the rights of its citizens over the interests of these corporations, and that it is able to protect the human rights lawyers who continue to defend the rights of vulnerable communities,” the groups said. – Forum Asia - ALIRAN Website

See earlier relevant posts:-

Syarikat balak mohon prosiding menghina terhadap peguam, penduduk kampung(Malaysiakini)

Logging firms apply to cite villagers, lawyer for contempt(Malaysiakini)

Pahang/Perlis peluang merasai kerajaan baru, selain daripada BN, dalam GE15? Rakyat berkuasa - bukan lagi parti atau ahli politik? - see also Januari 26, 2021 - Harian Metro

ICJ - Malaysia: contempt of court action abused to harass human rights lawyer Charles Hector

OPEN Letter to PM, Pahang MB,.. from UK lawyers - condemn attempts to 'criminalize' Charles Hector(lawyer) and the eight villagers he represents.

Contempt proceedings adjourn to 6/4/2021 - and another letter to PM and MB from Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada

Syarikat balak tarik balik prosiding hina Mahkamah terhadap penduduk kampung, peguam(Malaysiakini) 

Environment - Does Pahang on Malaysia Care? Home to tapirs and elephants or mining site for Pahang royals?

Som Forest: Home to tapirs and elephants or mining site for Pahang royals? - by 2021’s Thomson Foundation Young Journalist Award winner




No comments: