Friday, April 18, 2008

Malaysia - An Unholy Alliance of Politics and Logging

Abuses of Human Rights and the Environment

June 1992
Human Rights Watch
Natural Resources Defense Council

The indigenous people who live in the Malaysian rainforest and are dependent on it for every aspect of their ancient culture are now pitted against state and federal authorities, who have a huge financial stake in the forests. Logging and politics are inextricably intertwined; new laws are created to override the old protections. Some, including the conservative International Timber Trade Organization, (ITTO), warn that the whole matter will soon be moot because logging will transform Malaysia’s rainforest into a veritable wasteland by the end of this decade.1 The voracious timber export industry has already caused land erosion, water contamination, the extinction of wildlife and plant species and the annihilation of indigenous cultures, not to mention the wider impact on global warming.

1 A 1990 ITTO report, cited in "Tropical Heat," The Economist, February 15, 1992, warns that Sarawak will have no virgin forest left by 2001.

Although most of the profit from logging goes to state officials, the federal government in Kuala Lumpur benefits both economically and, more importantly, politically from logging. By allowing the states to exploit their forests at their own discretion, Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad ensures their loyalty to Barisan Nasional, the ruling coalition party which he heads. Kuala Lumpur has never had comfortable relations with the two Borneo states (Sabah and Sarawak), so maintaining support from those governments is a political necessity, especially if it is to keep a tight grip on parliament.2 Mahathir wants Malaysia to be "completely industrialized" by the year 2020.3 There is little room in such a plan for indigenous lifestyles, which Mahathir characterizes as "eating monkeys and suffering from all kinds of diseases."4

For these reasons, Mahathir has declared an unofficial war against proponents of environmental and indigenous people’s protection, who call for a logging moratorium or at minimum a revamping of the existing timber infrastructure. The "war" is waged by repressive legislation prohibiting freedoms of association and assembly; censorship and harassment of domestic and international media; turning a blind eye to corruption and violations of official environmental policies; and the intimidation of environmentalists and indigenous people by means ranging from hired thugs to detention without charge under draconian emergency laws that supersede constitutionally-guaranteed rights.

Malaysian authorities espouse convincing conservationist sympathies but in actuality none of the protective measures is implemented. Asked if there is ever punishment or prosecution for logging practices that violate the ostensibly sound official logging code, such as cutting trees that are too small or cutting too many trees per hectare, one logger answered: "No, there’s no prosecution. There’s only corruption."5

In Sabah, leaders of the opposition party, Parti Bersatu Sabah, have been detained, and some remain in detention, under the Internal Security Act. For further discussion, see "Malaysia: Detainees in Sabah," News from Asia Watch, October 18, 1991.

3 "Malaysia: The race to 2020," The Economist, November 9, 1991.

4 "Tropical Heat," The Economist, 2/15/92.

5 "Penan’s last stand against timber industry pirates," by James Barclay, Guardian, January 10, 1992.

According to a recent article, the scene in the Borneo states of Malaysia is one of rampant waste and destruction.

It is like open-cast mining: huge bulldozers shift vast amounts of earth and topsoil, which is washed into the river system.

Thousands of trees are bulldozed into gullies to form temporary roads. Huge funeral pyres burn with trees deemed too small to send to the coast.

The riverbanks are lined with miles of rotting logs stacked 40-feet high because buyers have rejected them. They could have been left if the cutters were not inexperienced workers on piecerates.6

A shallow-growing creeper weed eventually greens the devastated land, but the rainforest is not revived.

Mahathir has waged an effective campaign against environmentalists in which their activities are synonymous with sedition and foreigners concerned about Malaysia’s rate of logging are discredited as motivated by a racist assumption that non-whites cannot make sound decisions. International environmental activists are condemned as racist "eco-imperialists" and domestic activists are Malaysia’s "Number 1 traitors."7

The prime minister claims that anti-logging protests are "being used to set up an international infrastructure that can attack and topple the sovereign governments of third-world nations, using the excuse of saving the environment."8

Malaysian authorities recently announced the formation of a special task force to be based in Europe, whose US$4 million budget will be financed by the Malaysian Timber Industry Development Council.9 Its mandate will be to "repel

6 Ibid.

7 "Eco-imperialists" attributed to Prime Minister Mahathir; "Number 1 traitor" attributed to Sarawak Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud: "Act against ‘traitors’ call," Borneo Post, March 30, 1992.

8 "Tropical Heat," The Economist, February 15, 1992.

9 "Malaysia: Crisis deepens for Dayaks in Sarawak," Urgent Action Bulletin, Survival International, April 1992.

falsehood and lies spread by evil-intended environmentalists," who, officials say, have been "brainwashing the people of Europe" in order to "damage the country’s reputation and image in the western world."10

10 Prime Industries Minister Datuk Seri Dr. Lim Keng Yaik in "Special task force to counter western media propaganda," Borneo Post, January 4, 1992.


Eleven of Malaysia’s thirteen states are located on the Malaysian peninsula while Sabah and Sarawak are separated from Kuala Lumpur and the rest of Malaysia by some 200 miles of Borneo Sea. Sabah’s rainforest is expected to be "logged out" by 1995.11 So all eyes turn to Sarawak: its land area is 12.33 million hectares, 38 percent of Malaysia’s total land area; in 1990, its logging industry was estimated to generate about $2 billion in foreign exchange, (and logging has only increased since then) and the industry employs some 55,000 persons. But environmentalists and indigenous rights activists warn that the last remains of the ancient Borneo rainforest are being permanently extinguished at a rate three times faster than the Amazon rainforest.

Communal forests, to which indigenous persons have exclusive rights, have been reduced from 30,300 hectares in 1968 to just over 5,000 in 1990. The indigenous people have legal right to the land under the Native Customary Law, but they cannot claim native land rights without applying to the government. The procedure is often expensive, and indigenous people tend not to have currency. In addition, land rights can be overturned through "gazetting" in which state officials print an announcement in the government gazette, which the indigenous people do not receive. If no reply is received within a certain period of time, the land has changed hands.12 At present, 9.42 million hectares has been gazetted, most of which will be divided into logging concessions.

Indigenous people constitute nearly 50 percent of the state’s population. Most of them are entirely dependent on the rainforests for food, medicine and shelter, as well as to maintain their customs and ways of life generally.

Deforestation means the extinction of their ancient cultures. The fight in Sarawak to slow rainforest destruction and protect the indigenous cultures has been fought in two ways. First, there has been a publicity campaign to get domestic and international exposure of the problem, and to combat

11 According to an ITTO report quoted in "Empires of the chainsaws," The Economist, August 10, 1991.

12 "The Children in Empty Huts," by Jeni Kendell, Index on Censorship, June/July, 1989.

"misinformation" distributed by officials. Second, the indigenous people have engaged in non-violent protests, primarily in the form of human blockades that obstruct logging roads.

Most of the indigenous people do not read or speak either English or Malay, the main languages of power in Malaysia, and most cannot vote since they are do not hold identification cards.13 The blockades, therefore, provide just about their only means of empowerment. In the words of one indigenous person, they feel that "[without the blockades] we cannot do anything to stop the company...when we try to defend ourselves, we are condemned as troublemakers."14

Among the indigenous people, the Penan ethnic group, an ancient huntergatherer society, has been particularly active in blockading timber roads. Their name has become somewhat interchangeable with the movement as a whole. Many Malaysian authorities assert that they are better off changing their ‘primitive’

13 Many people in the interior do not hold identification cards. Sometimes this is the result of not being able to participate in the complicated registration process. In other instances, registration is kept on hold for years, without explanation.

14 Ulat Ayat, quoted in The Battle for Sarawak’s Forests by the World Rainforest Movement and Sahabat Alam Malaysia, p. 47.

lifestyles and becoming incorporated into the modern world. They say the Penan have been "over-romanticized and over-mythicized by liberal Westerners."15 Penan who have been removed from the rainforest (there are only a few hundred now out of some 9,000 Penan who still live in the traditional manner in the forest) reside in government-subsidized "longhouses."

There they experience malnutrition, various physical ailments and mental depression. They are not assimilating into modern society, and government efforts on their behalf are reportedly next to nil.16 Yet success stories appear in the domestic media, claiming that life in the longhouses is a radical improvement for the Penan.17

"Who are these Penans?" by Ken Yalang, Sarawak Tribune, February 29, 1992.

16 For example, the government sponsors a "flying doctor service," in which a physician is flown into the area (land travel is extremely difficult). There are reports, however, that the doctor comes sporadically and infrequently, and more often than not simply tosses packages of an aspirin-like medicine from his helicopter and spends the rest of his visit shooting at wild game from up in the air. Interviews with Sarawakian representatives, September 24, 1991.

17 See, for example, "Who are these Penans," by Ken Yalang, Sarawak Tribune, February 29, 1992.


The state has absolute jurisdiction over land matters, a remnant of the enticement package with which the then-called "Malaya Federation" induced Sabah and Sarawak to join the union in 1963. The two states brought additional ethnic diversity to the union as well as a wealth in natural gas and the world’s oldest virgin rainforest. To this day, while 95 percent of gas profits go directly to the federal government, (the cause of great federal-state discord), timber concessions and jurisdiction over logging laws are still entirely controlled by the states. The state grants concessions to individuals who then contract out short-term rights to log the land in exchange for a percentage of the profits.

Logging continues seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day. At night the forest is lit by giant floodlights. As political offices change hands, so too do the logging contracts. Once a contract is secured, (usually only a one- or two-year arrangement) therefore, literally every minute of its term is utilized in order to make maximum use of the forest’s temporary availability. Yet only about 30 percent of the cut trees are used. The rest, often young trees that do not pass export regulations, are left to rot.18

Years of unaccountability have yielded a situation in which those who supposedly protect the environment are also the ones who profit most from its exploitation. The situation is epitomized by Sarawak Minister for the Environment and Tourism, Datuk James Wong, saying: "We get too much rain in Sarawak. It stops me from playing golf."19 Wong, an outspoken proponent of logging, owns 300,000 hectares of forest concessions, and the Limbang Trading Company, one of
the nation’s largest timber companies. In his own words, "logging is my bread and butter."20

"Penan’s last stand against timber industry pirates," by James Barclay, Guardian, January 1, 1992.

19 "International experts say Sarawak natives badly affected by logging," Utusan Konsumer, March 1988.

20 Star, September 5, 1988.

Sarawak Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud, who calls anti-logging activists Malaysia’s "number one traitors," directly controls 10 percent of Sarawak’s logging concessions. He distributes logging licenses, like political favors, at his discretion. Taib’s relatives and political allies are said to hold around 1.6 million hectares, roughly one third of Sarawak’s timber concessions.21

In 1987, the Sarawak state elections were funded almost exclusively by money made from logging. Chief Minister Taib froze concessions owned by his opponents that covered 1.25 million hectares and which were worth between M$9billion and M$22.5 billion. Political campaigns are funded with money obtained through logging.22 Taib says granting concessions to politicians is a good thing because it frees them from their sponsors.23

Loggers allegedly falsify records of the species, sizes and origins of cut logs in order to avoid paying higher royalty rates on certain classes of wood. Analysts estimate that 30-40 percent of Sabah’s annual logging production is exported with improper documentation.

[A] shadowy network of businessmen is employing an elaborate system of bribes and kickbacks to document falsely both the species and the volume of the logs being loaded at East Malaysian ports.24

"In Sarawak, a Clash Over Land and Power," by Raphael Pura, The Asian Wall Street Journal, February 7, 1990.

"The Children of Empty Huts," Index on Censorship.

23 New Straits Times, October 4, 1987.

"Cutting down to size," by Doug Tsuruoka, Far Eastern Economic Review (FEER), July 4, 1991.

An estimated US$100 million in illegal timber is exported, undeclared, by just one of the several groups working illegally in Sabah.25 Enforcement officials make little impact because their powers are severely curtailed by timber companies’ protections and often they "prefer to remain silent in order to share in the secret profits."26

Kuala Lumpur espouses sound conservationist practices, while in fact, according to The Economist, [t]he federal government in Kuala Lumpur and the cliques that control Malaysia’s two states in Borneo have a tacit understanding. The states will help generate revenue for the federal government from Borneo’s natural resources so long as they are left free to run things their own way.27


The Emergency (Public Order and Prevention of Crimes) Ordinance 1969

The Emergency Ordinance grants authorities the ability to detain anyone they suspect of wrongdoing without charges or trial for up to 60 days. Used in the past against gangsters and Communist insurgents, it was most recently directed against Anderson Mutang Urud, from the Kelabit tribe. Mutang Urud is a leader in the blockades and an international spokesperson for the indigenous people. Fluent in Malay, English and Kelabit, he travelled internationally to increase awareness and heighten international concern for the situation in Sarawak. He was instrumental in founding the Sarawak Indigenous People’s Alliance (SIPA) in 1991 to disseminate information and campaign against unsustainable logging.

On January 11, 1992, Mutang Urud accompanied Svend Robinson, a member of the Canadian Parliament visiting Malaysia on a fact-finding mission, and Brendan McGivern, a Canadian diplomat, to an anti-logging blockade. Mutang Urud was then detained on February 5 under Section 3 of the Emergency

25 Ibid.

26 Ibid.

27 "The dwindling forest beyond Long San," The Economist, August 18, 1990.

Ordinance, and charged with running an unregistered society, SIPA. (All organizations must be registered with the Registrar of Societies under the Societies Act. Registration can take as little as a month for those that promote the official "party line" and more than three years for groups that go against it.)

Mutang Urud believes that the Svend Robinson affair and SIPA are not the real reasons for his arrest. He points out that the arrest occurred just before the blockade at Long Ajeng, one of the longest-running ever, was to be dismantled by authorities on February 12. As one of the blockade’s most prominent leaders, Mutang Urud’s arrest would help demoralize the more-than-500 participants and thus make taking it apart without complications or resistance that much easier.

During detention, Mutang Urud says he was interrogated about, among other things, how best to dismantle the blockade, and was asked to accompany the state and federal agents who did so. (He refused.)28 Mutang Urud was released on bail on March 3, after protests by Amnesty International and other groups. His trial is set for September, 1992.

Mutang Urud was kept in solitary confinement and interrogated for hours continuously, sometimes until 4 a.m., until he no longer knew whether it was morning or night. For ten days he was held in a cell without a window. He was forced to take cold showers in the middle of the night, to sleep without a shirt, sheets or blankets, and denied medical treatment. Furthermore, his interrogators constantly warned that he might be held under the Public Order provision of the Emergency Ordinance and therefore could be kept in detention indefinitely.29

Forests Ordinance

The blockades began over a decade ago but did not draw international media attention until 1987, a year in which 310,000 hectares was logged. In 1985, only 270,000 hectares had been logged. In contrast to the urgent recommendations of the ITTO and other groups, the logging rate has steadily increased. It is estimated

28 The blockade at Long Ajeng was clearly considered cause for concern, evidenced by the fact that it was ultimately dismantled by the Federal Reserve Unit (FRU), the toughest group of federal police. A sort of advanced riot police, with special uniforms, they carry tear gas and clubs and have a reputation of being vicious. Earlier blockades were dismantled only by local police and members of the federal Special Branch. Interview with Mutang Urud, April 26, 1992.

29 Interviews with Mutang Urud, April 10 and April 26, 1992.

that 1992 will see 400,000 hectares cleared -- more if illegal activity is factored into the total.

In immediate response to the international attention attracted by the blockades, the Sarawak Forests Ordinance was amended to make obstructing logging activities or resisting the dismantling of a blockade a criminal offense punishable by two years in prison or a fine of M$6,000. The amendment also granted forestry officials the power to enlist the assistance of agents of the logging concessions to dismantle blockades. Furthermore, the new law set out that expenses incurred in removing the blockade "must be paid by the so-called offenders to the
state government" with interest charged annually until the amount is paid.30

Indigenous people and their advocates have maintained that their customary rights to the land are protected by state law, so that any blockades set up on "their" land are therefore not illegal. In 1990, three men from the Kayan community filed an order to stop the felling of trees because it transgressed their native customary land rights as enshrined in the Constitution -- to no avail.31

Despite these claims, since the amendment was enacted, roughly 500 indigenous people have faced criminal charges under the ordinance. At varying times individuals were denied bail and experienced poor treatment while in detention. (See "Conditions in Detention.") In 1989, eighty Penan, swidden agriculturalists, were held in detention for three months, with the women and children who remained behind facing acute problems getting food. Sarawak Director of Forests Leo Chai explained that the "stubborn" indigenous people needed to be dealt with harshly in order to be "taught a lesson."32

Internal Security Act

30 Utusan Konsumer, May 1988.

31 SiMBA (Singapore and Malaysian British Association), Newsletter May 1990.

32 Emergency Committee for Human Rights in Malaysia, "Update No. 10: Malaysian ISA Detention and Human Rights Alert," February 16, 1989.

The Internal Security Act (ISA) allows for the arrest without warrant of anyone considered likely to pose a threat to the security of Malaysia. Those arrested can be detained for 60 days without charge or review, and the Minister of Home Affairs has the authority to extend the detention order for up to two years, renewable indefinitely. Prime Minister Mahathir holds the post of Minister of Home Affairs. Usually reserved for "religious extremists" and "Communists," the ISA has also been used against environmental activists.

Harrison Ngau, a Sarawak representative of Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) and leader of the anti-logging blockades, was called a "communist stooge" by the government.33 He was arrested at his office in late 1987 and detained under the ISA for sixty days in the midst of a nationwide series of arrests. He was later released conditionally, prohibited from leaving his home after 10 p.m. and barred from leaving the city of Marudi without a police permit. In July 1987, he had led a group of 12 indigenous people to Kuala Lumpur where they communicated their grievances and remonstrated with the government. The mission yielded no results. Two other Sarawakians, farmers with the Sarawak Land Development Board, were also detained under the ISA at the same time, although the reasons for this are unclear. Among the hundreds of ISA arrests in 1987, at least 91 were known outspoken critics of the official land policy.34


Since 1987, blockade participants who have spent time in jail have described various kinds of inhuman and degrading treatment. These include being kept in shackles and, consequently, being forced to defecate on themselves, and being ridiculed and humiliated for this; receiving inedible food or no food at all; being hit by police; being kept in extremely overcrowded cells without room even to sit or squat; unhygienic conditions (they were given one bucket instead of a toilet for 42 people, and forced to wear the same pair of underwear throughout detention); and being charged excessive bail. In several cases, the indigenous people were not brought directly to the town police station but to a timber company camp first, where they were slapped around and humiliated.35

"The dwindling forest beyond Long San," The Economist, August 18, 1990.

34 SOS Sarawak press release.

35 Oral reports and Utusan Konsumer, mid-August, 1991.

Those detained under the Emergency Ordinance and the ISA undergo additional forms of mistreatment. Detention is often incommunicado; charges are not clarified; legal counsel is not permitted until immediately before the trial.


Timber companies hire toughs to drive their trucks and fill other low-level positions. The men who apply for these jobs tend to be in trouble with the law, and use the forest as a safe haven. They are often heavy drinkers with a history of time in jail. Their appearance is intimidating to the indigenous people, as they tend to be heavily tattooed musclemen who conspicuously carry huge knives known locally as "samurais." On three recent occasions, local Sarawakian rivalries turned into bloody fights when the gangsters got involved. One local man had four fingers sliced off when a petty argument escalated.36

These gangsters serve as off-the-record disciplinarians. One forestry official, investigating illegal logging areas, was persuaded to give up his inquiry after his wife received a visit at home by two thugs wielding machetes. The logging vigilantes have terrorized indigenous people with their menacing behavior and by implying that they would gladly engage in headhunting if logging is obstructed. While this may sound unlikely in the west, it has a very real ring to the indigenous people of Borneo, where headhunting among some groups continued until quite recently.

Another means of intimidation employed in Sarawak to silence protest against logging is the practice of unofficial "warnings." Indigenous persons in town for one reason or another run into local police officials, "by chance." They are "invited" to have a chat in police headquarters or to share a cool drink. They are then warned, "for their own good," to stay away from the blockades, from foreigners, or from environmental activists. These "invitations" are also used as a means of informal interrogation. Indigenous people, intimidated and not wishing to appear ungrateful (for the "invitation"), find it difficult to resist the barrage of questions.37

36 Interviews with Mutang Urud and others, September 24, 1991, April 10, 24 and 26, 1992.

37 Interviews with Mutang Urud and others, September 24, 1991 and April 26, 1992.


The court hearings against the indigenous people for obstructing logging activities attracted international attention at the end of 1988. Observers representing different legal groups from various countries flocked to Malaysia and indigenous people traveled three days to attend the hearing. Thereupon, the trial dates were abruptly set back a year. Reasons cited included not being able to get an interpreter (despite having over a year to find one) and unavailability of prosecution witnesses.

Given that the prosecution have more than a year to prepare their cases and get its witnesses and interpreters, such tactics could only be interpreted as an attempt by the Sarawak authorities to diffuse international protests and avoid embarrassment.38

Indigenous people also describe being called to court over and over, only to have their hearings postponed. This is a significant form of harassment as the indigenous people often have to walk days to appear in court.39

Court proceedures take place in English, a language not spoken by most indigenous. Court-appointed interpreters translate the proceedings into a language that is similar but considerably more complicated than that spoken by the indigenous people. They therefore are unable to precisely follow the proceedings.

Bruno Manser, a Swiss citizen, lived with the Penan for years during the 1980s. He became heavily involved in the anti-logging campaign and for this reason became persona non grata in Malaysia. The government described him as a "subversive Zionist and communist." Logging companies placed a $30,000 reward on his head; Penan were beaten and one was killed in attempts to get information about Manser’s whereabouts. Manser was chased by commandos through the jungles. The government established checkpoints and soldiers conducted "sweeps.38

Indigenous people arrested in November 1987 and scheduled to be tried in October 1988 had their trials postponed until April 1989. Other trials set for December 1988 were changed to November 1989. Trials set for December 1988 were postponed until January 1990. Emergency Committee for Human Rights in Malaysia, "Update No. 10," February 16, 1989.

39 Ibid., and Survival International, Urgent Action Bulletin, April 1992.

in the areas where he had reportedly been spotted. His crime: remaining in Malaysia past the expiration of his visa.40

"The Apostle of Borneo," by Wade Davis, Outside, January 1991.

In addition to the aforementioned task force to be financed by the Malaysian Timber Industry Development Council in order to counter environmentalists’ publicity, Reuters reported on April 29, 1992, that Malaysia "may form a special police unit" which would "monitor Western and local
environmentalists" who seek to disrupt logging activities.41


Censorship -- both official and unofficial -- is widespread in Malaysia. The British-based Economist was banned twice during 1991 for articles that looked critically at the Malaysian government, and its distribution was deliberately delayed there three times.42

A more common means of reining in the press is a phone call from the Ministry of Information to newspaper editors, warning them to "go easy" on a particular topic. The "advice" is generally heeded because maintaining rapport with government officials is a journalistic necessity.

Few negative reports appear about domestic issues, including logging, primarily because of the high degree of self-censorship. Members of the media are subject to having their works banned, censored or their institutions closed. For example, the political weekly Mingguan Waktu was banned in December 1991 on

41 "Malaysian Police May Check on Environmentalists," Reuters, April 29, 1992.

42 Delaying distribution serves almost the same function as banning issues yet proves more difficult to censure. The issue is delayed until it is no longer even remotely up-to-date. Readership is therefore substantially reduced, and whatever impact the issue might have had is effectively nullified, while the government avoids the political embarrassment of engaging in outright censorship.

the grounds that it had reported "irresponsibly." Only five months old, it had published criticisms of Mahathir’s administration.43

43 Attacks on the Press: 1991, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), March 1992, p. 79.

Mahathir told members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), that Western-style freedom of the press could be a hindrance to developing nations. He said that foreign journalists "fabricate stories to entertain and to make money out of it, without caring about the results of their lying."44

He also warned the ASEAN representatives that it is not easy to ban a newspaper or expel a foreign reporter: "You don’t do such things without getting a bashing from the Fourth Estate and those who consider themselves holier than us."45

The Far Eastern Economic Review (FEER), which just completed an out-of-court settlement in a lawsuit filed against it by Mahathir, had its July 4, 1991 issue banned by the Malaysian government. FEER, with a Malaysian circulation of 10,000, was not distributed there because, according to Deputy Home Minister Megat Junid Megat Ayob, the issue contained material which "threatened the security of the nation."46 The issue in question contained three articles on Malaysia.

One described Islamic fundamentalism; another discussed challenges faced by a corporation’s new director. The third and by far the most detailed article reports that "illegal logging in both states [Sabah and Sarawak] is rampant and may have foreign connections."47

44 "Malaysia makes its feelings clear," IPI Report, October 1991.

45 Ibid.

46 Attacks on the Press: 1991, CPJ, p. 78.

47 Cutting down to "size," FEER, July 4, 1991.

On July 5, 1991, eight foreign environmental activists staged a demonstration in Kuala Baram, a dockyard at the mouth of the Baram River, important for timber export, where logs are floated down from the interior before being loaded into barges and finally onto ships for overseas markets. The next day, two freelance journalists, Frank Momberg of Germany and Anna Leonard of the United States, who were covering the protest from across the river, were detained, interrogated and ultimately deported from Malaysia. According to Momberg, authorities "said I was involved in an action against the security of Sarawak." Leonard confirmed, Malaysian authorities "said we have to leave because ‘we have threatened the security of the state.’ That’s ridiculous."48

Neither had participated in the demonstration. They had dispatched stories via fax to international news agencies, including the Associated Press and Reuters, and Momberg was writing for Robin Wood, a German magazine. Other foreign journalists who had been with them were not detained, presumably because the others were based in Kuala Lumpur, and so were not held under Sarawak state laws.

Today, foreign journalists are prohibited from visiting the indigenous people’s "longhouses" and the sites of anti-logging activities. Tourist agencies are required to submit names of all foreigners, tourists and journalists, to the Special Branch for review.

Mahathir explained: They [foreign journalists] would be most happy if the country was poor and begged for assistance. But they look for something bad to report if the country is not begging for help...It has become part of their culture to look down upon the coloured.49

On February 16, 1992, Rolf Bokemier, editor of the German-based GEO magazine and Charles Lindsay, a Canadian photographer, arrived in Sarawak but were not permitted to stay. The two had applied through the Malaysian Tourist Development Corporation in Germany to do a story on tourism in Sarawak but state

48 Telephone interviews with CPJ.

49 Mahathir quoted in "Some Foreign Journalists are Jealous of M’sia: Dr. M," Sabah Times, September 17, 1991.

authorities suspected they were planning an article on the anti-logging campaign.50 (Bokemier had been one of the first to interview Bruno Manser in the mid-1980s.)

British writer James Barclay was deported from Sarawak and became a "prohibited visitor" in August 1991, after he allegedly filmed a Penan blockade for a Canadian production company. Barclay, author of A Stroll Through Borneo, re-entered Sarawak after officially changing his name and obtaining a new passport.

50 New Straits Times, March 12, 1992.

British writer James Barclay was deported from Sarawak and became a "prohibited visitor" in August 1991, after he allegedly filmed a Penan blockade for a Canadian production company. Barclay, author of A Stroll Through Borneo, reentered Sarawak after officially changing his name and obtaining a new passport.

He was detained from February 15 through March 17, 1992, under Section 33 of the Immigration Act because of his status as a prohibited immigrant. He was told, however, that he would be charged with drug trafficking (which carries a mandatory death penalty). He was reportedly kept in poor conditions, denied food and water for two days, and physically abused. During interrogation, his recent Guardian article, "Penan’s last stand against timber industry pirates," was frequently mentioned.51


The logging industry is virtually exempt from adhering to the environmentally-sound guidelines set forth by the federal government, because it generates wealth for potential dissident voices in the state governments and thus keeps them loyal to the Malaysian federation. Political bullying and scare techniques enable both the legal and the black market timber companies to engage in logging without restraint.

On paper and in words, Malaysia implements reasonable conservationist practices but in actuality environmental activists and critics of logging are detained, censored and harassed. Through it all, the planet’s oldest rainforest, as well as the myriad plant and animal species unique to it are being annihilated, and the fragile human cultures that depend on it are on the brink of extinction.

51 January 10, 1992.

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