Kelantan MCA calls for the immediate release of two media personnel who were arrested this morning while shooting a documentary on the orang asli blockade

UPDATED

KUALA LUMPUR: Kelantan MCA today demanded the Kelantan Forestry Department to release two media personnel from Channel NewsAsia who were arrested earlier today while shooting a documentary on deforestation in Kelantan.

The media personnel – a freelance television producer working for Channel NewsAsia and his cameraman – were detained this morning along with 16 orang asli villagers at a tribal reserve in Gua Musang.

According to reports, they were nabbed by the Kelantan Forestry Department over anti-logging blockades in the interiors of Gua Musang.

Forestry Department director Zahari Ismail is reported to have said that they were detained when the department dismantled the Matau Cawas blockade near Pos Bihai.

By noon, the 16 orang asli activists were released but the journalists were arrested.

“Kelantan MCA demands the immediate and unconditional release of the two Channel NewsAsia journalists detained by the Kelantan Forestry Department whilst covering news of the blockade at Simpang Petai and entry route to Pos Bihai,” said Kelantan MCA secretary Lua Choon Hann in a statement.

He also took the PAS-led state government to task for its failure that has resulted in excessive logging in the state, which in turn has resulted in the orang asli villages being encroached.

“The Kelantan state government must clarify if it is really trying to prevent the widespread environment catastrophe which the uncontrolled logging has unleashed against the orang asli.

“If there is responsible and sustainable logging i.e, replanting every tree that is felled, the Kelantan government needs not fear the ugly truth of permanent hillslope destruction being publicised,” he said.

Lua, who is also Kelantan MCA’s crisis relief squad chairman, also related how he had seen the damaging effects of deforestation while delivering aid to the orang asli.

He said his team had been involved in laying wooden planks to construct a makeshift road to ensure the dispatch of emergency food supplies to the orang asli hamlets which were cut off during the sweeping floods of December 2014 to January 2015.

“We witnessed first-hand how the wanton deforestation led to soil erosion, hastening flood waters to rise, and likewise, polluted rivers where waters were once crystal clear which the orang asli had traditionally depended on for fishing and cleaning.”

He also said the arrest of the two media personnel would not erase the fact that Kelantan was ecologically suffering due to its forest depletion.

“Is the state government assuming that by detaining the journalists, it can prevent the truth that the excessive forest depletion is the main contributory factor towards the massive floods in Kelantan?”

“The Channel NewsAsia journalists were performing their jobs – of seeing, experiencing and assessing the situation to report to their news agencies.

“For PAS to silence the media shows how hardline they will act to clampdown against press freedom and the truth of the hardships inflicted on the orang asli,” he said.

Mediacorp, which runs Channel NewsAsia, said that the arrested television producer was a Malaysian freelancer named Jules Ong, and his cameraman.

It added that they were engaged by Channel NewsAsia to produce a documentary on deforestation in Kelantan.

“Channel NewsAsia, which operates across the whole of Asia, will co-operate fully with any official investigation,” it said.

Suhakam expresses concern

In another development, the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) today condemned the Kelantan Forestry Department’s demolition of the orang asli blockades in Gua Musang.

Suhakam said it was dismayed that the blockades set up by the orang asli in the Balah forest reserve to protest against logging had been dismantled by the department in an operation that started on Monday.

“Suhakam is deeply concerned that this marginalised and vulnerable community who are among Malaysia’s poorest minority have been targets of long-standing discrimination, exclusion and more recently, violence.

“These blockades are a symbol of protest by them, opposing unrestrained commercialisation of the forests, which violates the many established principles on business and human rights, such as the duty of the state to protect, and duty of businesses to respect the human rights of the orang asli,” it said in a statement.

Suhakam referred to the national inquiry it conducted in 2013, which found that the orang asli “face substantial, discriminatory and unbearable obstacles to the exercise and enjoyment of their rights to own, possess and control their lands”.

It added that a national task force committee had accepted 17 of the 18 recommendations made by Suhakam back then and called on the government to take steps to implement them.

Also read:

Media personnel among 18 detained at orang asli blockade

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