PETALING JAYA: After a brief lull, the controversy surrounding the anti-logging blockades set up by the Temiar orang asli near Gua Musang has flared up again.
The latest direct confrontation between the opposing sides followed a major operation by the Kelantan Forestry Department, which dismantled two barricades in the Balah forest reserve – one in Simpang Petei on Monday and another in Matau Cawas near Pos Bihai yesterday.
At the Matau Cawas blockade, the department’s enforcement officers arrested two freelance journalists, Ong Ju Lim, 46, and Too Chee Hung, 36, as well as 16 orang asli.
The orang asli were later released at the blockade site while Ong and Too were taken to the department’s office in Gua Musang.
According to a statement from Singapore-based Channel NewsAsia, Ong had been engaged by the news agency to produce a documentary on deforestation in Kelantan.
Meanwhile, State Forestry Department director Datuk Zahari Ibrahim said his officers did not arrest any of the orang asli but only recorded their statements.
“All we did was to tear down 10 illegal barricades built by the orang asli and merely recorded their statements.
“And we came across the journalists and questioned them, and they could not produce a valid permit to enter the forest reserve,” he said late yesterday.
He said both men were being investigated under Section 47(1) of the National Forestry Enactment 1984 (amended 1993) for entering a forest reserve without a valid permit.
He said the natives were advised not to erect the barricades or they would face the consequences of their action.
Both Ong and Too were released on police bail after 11pm last night and were told to return to Gua Musang for a court hearing on Feb 22.
The day before, the department’s enforcement officers arrested five orang asli at the demolition of the Simpang Petei blockade. They were released on bail the next day.
Lawyer and activist Siti Zabedah Kasim, who represented the orang asli, earlier said she still had not received any indication of what charge the five were being probed for.
“They (the department) completely did not want to talk to us.
“They did not want to allow us to speak to our clients.
“They even refused to explain under what section the boys (orang asli) were being arrested and investigated,” she said yesterday.
Ever since the blockades were erected by the orang asli in September last year to protest logging in the area, the site has seen several confrontations involving them, the State Forestry Department and the loggers operating there.
Authorities tore down the blockade at Simpang Petei just days after it was set up, with vivid videos of chainsaws cutting the barricade still being held by orang asli activists as well as reports of gunfire.
Last November saw the authorities once again breaking the blockade, and arresting dozens of orang asli.
Each time after the barricades were dismantled, the defiant orang asli activists would rebuild them soon after.