More than 200 owners of native customary rights (NCR) land gathered outside the gate of the Simunjan police station here demanding to be detained together with seven of their colleagues who were being held for alleged mischief with fire yesterday.
Fearful of more owners turning up, police quickly closed the gate to prevent them from entering and called for more reinforcement.
The landowners were supporters of well-known activist Nicholas Mujah and four Tuai Rumah (longhouse chiefs) and two others.
Their arrests have caught the attention of international media like BBC which phoned Mujah’s supporters for details of the detention.
Besides being the secretary-general of Sarawak Dayak Iban Association (Sadia), Mujah is also a member of several national and international non-governmental organisations.
Mujah and two others were detained yesterday afternoon after their statements were taken and their lawyer See Chee How of Baru Bian’s legal firm was present. They will be produced in court today for further remand.
On Thursday, three longhouse chiefs and a NCR landowner were detained. They were produced in court yesterday and remanded for four days.
Police also took statements of 10 others from six longhouses, but they were not detained.
The seven have been arrested in connection with the fire that occurred last Monday destroying or damaging two-storey quarters, a store, six tractors, two logging trucks, a pick-up and an excavator.
The machinery and quarters belonged to the Royal Billion Sdn Bhd, a contractor of the licence holder Quality Concrete Holdings.
The amount of loss is yet to be estimated. But the company claimed the loss is at RM2 million.
Chief Minister Taib Mahmud’s sister Raziah is a non-executive director of the company.
The logging company, Quality Concrete Holdings, has been in the centre of dispute after the Forestry Department gave it a licence to carry out logging activities in the disputed 3,305 hectares of forests which the Ibans from six longhouses claim to be their NCR land.
The landowners have been negotiating with the company and the authorities and they have also brought their complaints to the police, the district officer, the Resident of Samarahan Division and the Land and Survey Department. All to no avail.
When all these failed, the natives have, since Oct 14, erected a blockade to stop the workers from the Royal Billion Company from encroaching into their NCR land.
They have also stopped a “tongkang” (barge) from loading timber that has been extracted from the disputed area.
Mujah, a landowner himself, said he was curious why the police detained him.
“When the fire occurred, I was at Pulau Bruit with a colleague doing some monitoring work. Furthermore, his last visit to his longhouse was on July 24.
On the so-called loss of RM2 million by the company, Mujah said that was only minimal.
“But the profits they extracted from the timber are worth hundreds of millions of ringgit. What about the destruction to our lands, the fruit trees, our gardens and cash crops and the damage to the ecological system?
“The company did not respect the law and the rights of the natives. It did not observe the conditions given to them in the licence. One of the conditions is that the company should leave NCR land alone.
“But this company disobeyed the conditions and it should be punished for that,” he said, accusing the Forestry Department of colluding with the company.