Journalists claimed they were threatened by forestry officials


Ong (left) and Too were detained at the blockade at Matau Cawas on Jan 24.

PETALING JAYA: Two freelance journalists covering an Orang Asli blockade in Kelantan claim they were intimidated and threatened by state forestry officials during an operation there.  

Jules Rahman Ong, 46, said that he and Too Chee Hung, 36, were surrounded by more than 20 forestry officers on the morning of Jan 24 at the Matau Cawas blockade near Gua Musang.  

"They tried to stop us filming, they shouted at us and tried to take away our equipment.   

"They said stuff like, 'You're not supposed to be here!' One of them was shouting just an inch from my face," he alleged.  

Since September 2016, hundreds of Orang Asli in Kelantan have been setting up blockades near Gua Musang to put an end to logging that has been going on in their ancestral homeland for decades.  

Ong and Too were there filming a documentary for Singaporean news company Channel NewsAsia.  

The two were eventually handcuffed, their equipment taken away, and the blockade around them torn down.  

Both were driven back to Gua Musang in separate cars. It was on this journey that he was threatened, said Too.  

"He (a forestry official) started asking me if I knew who Bruno Manser was. He asked me, do you know what happened to him?   

"(He) went on to allude that he (Manser) was murdered. 'You sure you know he was murdered? I'm pretty sure he was murdered'," Too alleged.  

Bruno Manser was a Swiss environmentalist who helped the Orang Asli in Sarawak during the 1980s, including getting them to set up blockades against logging. He went missing in the year 2000, and is believed to be dead.  

Too added that another told him that officials had been "tailing" them, and proudly showed him photos of the two journalists in Gua Musang and the villages around it.  

Ong said they had previously informed Kelantan forestry officials of their intent to enter the forest, and had asked if they could follow officials on operations.  

"There was a lot of delaying, I called, I texted, but there was no answer," he said.  

Kelantan Forestry Department director Datuk Zahari Ibrahim would not comment on the treatment the journalists received..  

"My direction to my officer is to follow the standard operating procedure, and the journalists can express their views in court," he said.

Zahari said permits to the Balah forest reserve were frozen, adding that applications to enter were "still open for further consideration".  

He did not comment on why permits to Balah - where the Simpang Petei blockade is - were frozen.  

Both Ong and Too are being investigated under the National Forestry Act 1984 for entering a forest reserve without a valid permit.  

If found guilty, they can be fined up to RM10,000, jailed for up to three years, or both.


   

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