Villagers’ water source destroyed by company, Police brutally dismantled peaceful blockade


Mukah – Iban people from six villages in the Ulu Kelawit Tatau gathered in front of the Mukah police station for two days to peacefully protest the arrest of 11 community members who have been detained since October 25th. The arrests happened in response to a peaceful blockade set up by the communities in opposition to rock quarry and oil palm company that has polluted and destroyed their water source and taken their land without proper compensation. The Mukah police forcefully arrested 10 Iban men and 1 Iban woman during a raid in which they brutally burned their blockade, hit the women, burned their cultural artefacts, confiscated and burned their handphones, stole their property, and looted and destroyed the rest of their camp.

Three companies, all subsidiaries of Ta Ann, have been working in the area of the Ulu Kelawit-Tatau since 2012. The oil palm company, Cipta Sendirian Berhad, originally compensated the villagers for their land, but has discontinued payments. After the oil palm company came in, Stone Head Sendirian Berhad, the sandstone rock quarry company, started operations in the vicinity. An additional subsidiary of Ta Ann began another monoculture tree plantation. These companies, and particularly the operations of the rock quarry, have destroyed the Sungai Besangin, their river source. At first the water became extremely poisonous and polluted and killed their paddy fields and crops. And then the river completely dried up. Through the loss of their water source, villagers have lost their source of livelihood as they are no longer able to grow crops or fish on the river. They have also lost their source of food and drinking water. 

When the villagers began to notice the impacts of the Ta Ann companies on their rivers they wrote letters to their headmen and the companies, asking to have a discussion about how to fix the situation. The companies never responded to the villagers, instead offering compensation only to the headmen, who in turn sided with the company. With the headmen on the side of the company, and the lack of response from the company, the villagers had no other choice but to peacefully protest through a blockade that they began in early October, 2018. 

One man was arrest on October 20th, and was released on October 24th. On October 25th the police brutally burned and tore down the blockade, arresting an additional 11 people. Villagers arrived at the Mukah police station on October 29th to hold ceremony and prayer, including Iban rituals of miring and taboh. Police said that the people they are holding would be released on October 30th, but they continue to come up with reasons to delay their release. 

Mr. Nasar Anak Nawing from Km 16 Jalan Tatau, who was the first one arrested, commented: “What is the role of the police? Is it to protect the interests of the big companies, or is it to see there is justice for all? We were not looting, we were not violent, but we were there to protect our land and livelihood and to protect our rivers from being destroyed.”  

Describing the scene, Ms. Imuk Anak Imang from Rumah Tandang said: “The police came without any warning and without telling us. They collected our handphones and they were wearing masks. One of them shouted ‘arrest them! Arrest them!”

SAVE Rivers is a Civil Society Organisation which advocates for and empowers rural communities to protect and restore lands, rivers and watersheds through research, training and capacity building. For queries please contact: Peter Kallang – +6013 833 1104