Hornbill Unleashed

February 12, 2012

“Penan” Are A “Petty Issue”, like Zoo Animals! – Top Malaysian ‘Diplomat’ Sparks Row

Sarawak Report

“Petty” issues – this girl was raped by loggers on the way to school and left unconscious and pregnant. Taib refused to allow an investigation into this or any of the other rapes reported by the Penan.

For the first time people in the UK are beginning to wake up to the Malaysian High Commissioner, who turns out to be a fellow called Datuk Seri Zakaria Sulong.

This is because he has just made the most extraordinary series of insensitive and highly undiplomatic remarks, if a report by the Borneo Post is to be believed.

Mr Sulong apparently took the opportunity of a visit by Sarawak journalists (who of course are all forced to work for Taib controlled organisations like the Borneo Post) to cast aspersions against NGOs who are reporting human rights and enviromental problems in the state.

Petty issues?

In particular, he complained that many NGOs have been drawing attention to what he called “petty issues, like animals in zoos and the Penan in Sarawak”! [Borneo Post]

Today the Swiss-based Bruno Manser Fund, which was singled out in these complaints, expressed outrage that the problems of the Penan people and other tribes should be dismissed with such obvious racism.

BMF has responded by demanding the High Commissioner should resign:

“How can this man claim to be representing Malaysia in the United Kingdom if he compares his own people to zoo animals?”[Bruno Manser Fund]

Undiplomatic diplomat – how the High Commissioner blundered in the Borneo Post

Of course, numerous organisations and individuals have drawn attention to the appalling human rights issues, which have resulted in the virtual genocide of the Penan in Sarawak, as loggers have driven them from their jungle territories.

These organisations include BMF, Survival, Greenpeace, The Borneo Project, Friends of the Earth, Fern, Rainforest Alliance and many Malaysian groups such as Brimas, Suakam and indeed the PR opposition parties.

Petty issue? The Penan’s brave fight to keep the loggers out of Sarawak’s remaining 3% of virgin jungle

The Penan are just one of the many tribes in Sarawak who have found their livelihoods taken by the destruction of the rainforest.  However, because they are hunter nomads they have been one of the communities worst affected by the virtual disappearance of plants and animals.

Like other tribes the Penan have also seen their Native Customary Rights Lands taken by loggers holding permits bought from Taib Mahmud, but received no compensation and none of the promised ‘development’ that they were told timber sales and palm plantations would bring.

Worse, they have been subjected to violence and abuse by the gangsters that the timber gangs have long employed to suppress any native resistance to their clumsy destruction on the jungle.  These gangs do not restrict themselves to violence against the menfolk and people manning blockades.  There have been numerous reports of rape against the girls and women of these communities.

Compared to animals

They took our lands, so they think they can take our women too. Penan headmen speak out.

So how has Taib responded to these complaints of rapes against girls as young as ten years old?  Despite the fact that official delegations by Malaysian authorities have verified these allegations, he has refused to allow any investigation.

The reason seems to be that he regards these Christian forest folk as something akin to animals.  After all, his own side kick James Masing when interviewed by the UK’s BBC Television about a young girl who was beaten unconscious and raped by loggers, said the matter was not serious, as these people are “promiscuous from an early age”!

These are the issues that NGOs are drawing attention to and which the Malaysian High Commissioner has chosen to call “petty”!

In his reported words to the Borneo Post Sulong did admit that these issues and stories were causing Malaysia some considerable problems.  Indeed he whined that, as part of his job, he has to monitor the stories that are published in the UK about such matters and he acknowledged that it is hard to get politicians here to speak out against the NGOs, because they are “very powerful”.

The power of truth

'Weighty issues' in the Borneo Post - Taib seeks Ang Pow with latest top cronies for New Year

‘Weighty issues’ in the Borneo Post – Taib seeks Ang Pow with latest top cronies for New Year

The power of the NGOs comes from telling the truth.  In Malaysia papers like the Borneo Post are prevented from reporting such matters as human rights abuses and environmental destruction.

Instead, the ‘weighty issues’ that papers in Sarawak are forced to report day after day and page after page are the dreary diary events of the geriatric CM and his wild fantasies about ‘Score’ and ‘development’.

They are banned from covering any stories that might embarrass the Chief Minister.

Indeed, some some Malaysians drew a contrast today between the huge coverage by Malaysia’s government controlled newspapers this summer of a Malaysian boy, mugged during a street riot in London and the lack of any similar interest in the welfare of Dayaks.

They queried why the attacks against Dayak people and rapes of Penan women are not worth equal concern?

What hidden agenda have the NGOs got in trying to help these defenceless people?

Datuk Sulong reportedly alleged to his Borneo Post guests that NGOs, who have been covering such problems in Sarawak, have “hidden and personal agendas”.  Yet, he failed to make clear what those agendas might be, beyond the obvious concern over the crimes against the Dayak and the destruction of the jungle in Sarawak.

By contrast the agenda of Taib Mahmud and the loggers who are raping the jungles could not be clearer for all to see.  They want to make themselves very rich and they selfishly want to share as little of their profit with anyone else.  Simple!

‘Zoo animals”

Sucker foreign tourist? – Conservative MP Bill Wiggin came all the way to Malaysia to see a “petty zoo animal”

And what of those “zoo animals” who Sulong dismisses along with Penan as a petty issue?  Isn’t another large part of Malaysia’s undiplomatic chief diplomat’s job meant to be about promoting tourism?!

With one dismissive remark the High Commissioner has revealed exactly how Malaysia’s BN government really regards the wonderful forests of Sarawak and the amazing animals with which they have been trying to attract tourists.  He regards them as “petty issues” and “zoo animals”!

The truth is that the top dogs in BN in Malaysia today care about one thing only and that is money.  They have tried to have their cake and eat it by advertising to tourists about Sarawak’s 150 million year old jungle, when in reality they have chopped all but about 3% of it down, killing the animals and driving out the people in the process.

This is what the NGOs have been complaining about.

Just for the tourists – “Put them in a Museum”, Taib Mahmud. Clearly the High Commissioner agrees!

Hundreds of animal species that just 30 years ago still flourished in Sarawak’s jungles are now threatened with extinction and barely survive in zoos, to which tourists are taken.  These include for example the Bay Cat, of which only about 2,000 now survive, the Clouded Leopard, the Proboscis Monkey and of course the Orang Utan.

Malaysia likes to pretend that it cares so much about the Orang Utan, whose habitat is being eradicated by BN controlled oil palm plantations.  But, High Commissioner Sulong expressed perfectly their real attitude.

To him the Orang Utan, like the starving, abused and dispossessed Penan people, are just a “petty issue” and a “zoo animal”.


Getting himself in on the story! The High Commissioner placed himself next to celebrity Malaysian mugging victim Mohd Asyraf for the photo-calls. But dismisses raped Penan women as a “petty issue”


So, who needs complaining NGOs, when you have a ‘diplomat’ like High Commissioner Datuk Seri Zakaria Sulong to tell everyone the truth about Malaysia’s current treatment of Sarawak and the “petty Penan” and “zoo animals”?

Let’s not sack him, let’s keep interviewing him!



  1. I/We dont have problem with the ORIGINAL PENAN(MALAYSIAN)…. we been out there try to help out these penan community…

    What we see on the news that Penan saying the BN govt been generious to them are actually NOT Malaysian Penan!

    For example….2009 blockade in Long Nen, Baram (1 hour drives from Long Bedian); is actually erected by illegal Indonesian married to local Penan for monetary gains…

    2. Long house at simpang empat just after Petronas Gas pipeline….these Indonesian Punan!

    Comment by Hard Rod — February 13, 2012 @ 1:36 PM | Reply

  2. S’wak minister draws flak over Penan rape
    Masing: Penan are very good storytellers…they operate on different social etiquette
    By Keruah Usit, Malaysia Kini, 9 Dec 2009

    Sarawak Land Minister James Masing has come under fire for his scornful dismissal of claims that Penan girls and women have been sexually abused by employees of logging companies.

    In an interview with BBC Radio 4’s flagship Today programme, broadcast on Dec 7, Masing said: “I think this is where we get confused. I think… the Penan are a most interesting group of people and they operate on different social etiquette as us… a lot this sex by consensual sex.”

    BBC correspondent Angus Stickler then quoted Mary, a young Penan teenager, as saying that she had been dragged from her room, beaten unconscious and raped, after she had hitched a ride to school on a logging truck.

    A federal government task force had confirmed in a report on Sept 9 that girls as young as 10 had been raped by loggers. Like Mary, some have borne children as a result of rape.

    Masing, however, told the BBC: “They change their stories, and when they feel like it. That’s why I say Penan are very good storytellers.”

    His remark is typical of the Sarawak government response. The official line has been to deny the rape of Penan girls and women by loggers, and to smear the Penan as primitive and promiscuous liars, while declaring that logging is a form of development.

    The Sarawak government has asserted that logging brings roads, even if they are poorly maintained, to remote native Dayak communities.

    However, the same roads have led to numerous reports of sexual assault on local Dayak, including Penan, girls, by logging company drivers and employees.

    Masing’s slur of “changing stories” may be a reference to the police report lodged by a Penan rape survivor, ‘Bibi’, who withdraw her allegation.

    But the Penan Support Group (PSG), a civil society coalition, pointed out her alleged rapist, Ah Heng (called ‘Johnny’ in the task force report) had escorted her to make the retraction. It said Ah Heng threatened and intimidated her into changing her story.

    The PSG have criticised the police for closing their investigation into the sexual abuse, although the police had a representative in the task force.

    The Bruno Manser Foundation (BMF), a NGO based in Switzerland that works for the Penan in Sarawak, has called on Masing to issue an apology.

    The BMF had highlighted the sexual abuse of Penan by loggers last year. This sparked ocal media coverage and led eventually to the high-level task force investigation.

    Masing’s changing story

    Masing is unlikely to comply with any request to apologise. He is a leader of the Dayak-based Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS), a splinter group from the Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak (PBDS).

    The PBDS nearly took over the Sarawak government in 1987 from Abdul Taib Mahmud, the most tenacious chief minister in the history of Malaysia.

    Masing was PBDS vice-president and a stalwart of the opposition against Taib’s leadership of the state Barisan Nasional (BN) at the time. With a doctorate in anthropology, Masing was one of the most articulate political voices expressing the anger of the majority Dayaks, over the loss of their land to logging and plantation companies.

    Following a crushing PBDS defeat in state elections in 1991, the party was broken and returned to the state BN. Masing was instrumental in dismantling the PBDS. He set up the PRS in 2003, claiming to represent Dayak people in the state BN.

    Since then, he has been vilified by the Dayak communities fighting for their customary land rights all over Sarawak. The Penan, numbering some 15,000, are one of the ethnic groups included under the Dayak umbrella.

    Masing is a highly qualified anthropologist. He understands the false dichotomy between ‘them’ and ‘us’. He has been trained in the cultural sensitivity required of all ethnographers and, as such, should serve as a Dayak spokesman for the Sarawak government.

    Instead, he has become a vociferous defender of the Sarawak government’s abysmal record of deprivation of the Dayaks’ native customary rights (NCR) to land. He has transformed into the nemesis of his previous identity as a proponent of Dayak rights.

    Sarawak’s political rivalries have thrown up public announcements and graphic descriptions of how its ministers allocate timber licences to family members and friends. They in turn lease the licences to loggers to extract timber. The logging companies – and their benefactors – have grown fabulously rich from their concessions.

    Under the Sarawak Land Code 1958, natives are entitled to claim land they have used under customary law or adat. The Federal Court has affirmed the natives’ customary claims in celebrated landmark decisions such as Nor Nyawai vs Borneo Pulp Plantation Sdn Bhd, and Madeli Salleh vs the Government of Sarawak.

    Regardless of court decisions, the logging companies, oil palm plantations and hydro-electric dam construction corporations have bulldozed these NCR claims aside. The state government claims all land without title is state land, even if NCR claims are pending.

    Frustrated by the failure of the law to protect their communal farms and forests – and with landmark court cases ignored by the executive – Dayak communities have set up many blockades against the logging and oil palm companies.

    Yet Masing continues to deny the widespread hardship among rural Dayak. He was disparaging about the Dayaks who fought for their land rights.

    “You’re looking at state land. That land belongs to the government,” he told the BBC.

    “But you cannot condone people who are squatters who are in areas where they should not be. If it is indeed their land, the law of the land will take care of that.”

    PBB youth wing to check on Penan rape allegations
    The Star, Sunday July 18, 2010

    KUCHING: The Parti Pesaka Bumi­putra Bersatu (PBB) Sarawak youth wing is organising a fact-finding mission the allegations of Penan rape in northern Sarawak.

    Its chief Datuk Fadillah Yusof will head a team, which will comprise 10 youth members from Miri, Limbang and Lawas.

    “We will work with non-government organisations (NGOs) to find out the truth. If the rapes did really occur, we will take action,” he told a press conference after chairing the wing’s executive committee meeting yesterday.

    He said their mission would include an awareness programme that would educate the Penan communities on the laws of the country.

    “They are different from us,” he said. “Our values might not be the same,” he added, quoting an example of a Penan woman who got married at the age of 14 — an offence under the Malaysian legal system.

    “We want them to understand the law,” he said. “At the same time, we want to get closer to the Penan communities.”

    He said the fact-finding team would go to Baram Tengah and Apo before Ramadan begins.

    The committee arrived at the decision after a police officer briefed the members on the latest allegations made by the Penan Support Group. The group, made up of 36 non-government organisations, claimed there were more Penan women were being sexually exploited and that the police did nothing.

    However, Fadillah said the group’s allegations about police inaction was not accurate.

    “Police have taken the initiative to lodge reports and carry out investigations,” he said.

    In a report released by the group earlier this month, at least seven more Penan women had claimed that they were raped or sexually abused.

    Comment by Kamus — February 13, 2012 @ 1:12 PM | Reply

  3. those who have not been poor, suppress, inferior don’t know the hardship people in sarawak feel but that doesn’t make Sarawakians and Pro Sarawakians stupid left out. We will fight for what is right. Lets educate all women about rights, safety, to lodge report, and how to keep them safe. As for the loggers drag them to judgement.

    Comment by rose — February 12, 2012 @ 4:01 PM | Reply

  4. Petty bureaucrat Zakaria is now the laughing stock of the diplomatic service. Hey Zakaria, at every embassy cocktail party you go to from now, they’re not laughing near you, they’re laughing AT you. So are we in Sarawak and Malaysia.

    Comment by Analist — February 12, 2012 @ 2:09 PM | Reply

  5. and the stupid BN diplomat is animal meat on the dining table.

    Comment by mmc — February 12, 2012 @ 11:02 AM | Reply



    Comment by anon — February 12, 2012 @ 3:49 AM | Reply

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