Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Theme :: Activism and the British Connection

The films in this session revolve around a connection between Malaysia and the UK. Penusah Tana and Sepuluh Tahun Sebelum Merdeka deal with two different political struggles where International relations play a significant part in local politics.

Penusah Tana (The Forgotten Struggle)
By Hilary Chiew, Chi Too
35mins, 2007

For over 20 years, Ajang Kiew, a Penan Leader, has been setting up road blocks to protect his land from the intrusion of logging companies. Setting up blockades or being in the vicinity of one is punishable offence in Sarawak. In this documentary, Ajang Kiew sets up one final struggle before the remaining forest is cleared for oil palm plantations.

Looking back at the historic struggle of the Penans, the film locates a pivotal moment in logging politics when foreign activists backed off from putting pressure on Malaysia to return home to lobby their own governments instead.

At the height of the anti-logging campaign in 1987, a 10 year old boy from Camberley in Surrey writes a letter to Dr.Mahathir calling the logging practices in Malaysia ‘disgraceful’. Stoked, the Prime Minister writes back with the full might of his scorn. The 3-page letter was well-publicised in the UK although the public in Malaysia was not aware that such a correspondence had taken place.

This is a timely film for the audience in London as the EU will be introducing measures to stop the entry of illegally logged timber into the EU. In the coming months, the EU will recognise a self-certification scheme whereby timber imported from Malaysia will be certified as 'legal', based on the word of the Malaysian timber authorities. However, the legality standard is drawn from Malaysian laws and existing practices favouring the logging industry while eroding the rights of indigenous communities. Greenpeace have called the scheme “certifying business as usual”(2005, ref) - highlighting technical flaws and the lack of protection of Indigenous Peoples' rights. In a response, the Malaysian Timber Council addressed the technical issues raised by Greenpeace but was silent on the issue of Indigenous rights(ref). As the EU-Malaysia timber agreement is nearing conclusion, serious concerns over Indigenous People's rights remain unresolved(ref).

This film spills the contents of Dr.Mahathir's reply and provides the background information a UK audience needs to conclude on whether Malaysia’s timber is obtained ethically if indeed it is legal.

EXTRA : There will be a talk at 2.15pm by Saskia Ozinga about the EU-Msia FLEGT agreement. Saskia will also speak about the misguided and failed anti-logging campaigns of the 1980s and 90s. Read Forest Governance in Malaysia by Carol Yong for background information on the politics of Logging.

22 April 2010

Penusah Tana by Hilary Chiew was re-screened in London by Solicitors International Human Rights Group(SIHRG) on the 17 April, 2010. Little did SIHRG anticipate that their event would be front-page news for 2 consecutive days in the Eastern Times,  a Sarawak-based newspaper. Clare Rewcastle who is the sister-in-law of Gordon Brown was also brought up for criticism over her reporting of Sarawak issues.

According to local activists in Sarawak, Ajang Kiew has "crossed the floor" and no longer protest against destructive logging. The stated purpose of the film screening by SIHRG was to provide a platform to discuss the EU-Malaysia timber agreement from a human rights perspective. This objective was  overlooked by the Eastern Times which chose to focus on condemning the 'western media', wrongly alledging that SIHRG is a media organisation and not the reputable human rights organization that it is.

What the article claim is only 'alleged' rape is contrary to an official report produced by the Malaysian Federal government report(ref, ref). A copy of the report can be found here. The Sarawak government's denial of the abuse cases is documented in a BBC Radio 4 report. James Masing, a minister in the Sarawak cabinet, is reported to have 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". Since the official report was released confirming the sexual abuse, no action has been taken by the Federal or Sarawak state governments(ref).

Sepuluh Tahun Sebelum Merdeka (Ten Years Before Independence)
By Fahmi Reza
35mins, 2007

Ten years before Malaya gained independence from the British, a Left-wing political alliance(PUTERA-AMCJA) called for a Malaya-wide strike(‘Hartal’). It would be a protest against their exclusion in devising the Federal Constitution of Malaya. The proposed Constitution was designed in secret negotiation with the right-wing UMNO party by the British colonial government.

The day of the ‘Hartal’ was set for October 20, 1947 which was the day Parliament in London resume sitting after the Summer recess. It was in the proceeding session that a parliamentary debate on the proposed Malayan Constitution would take place.

This documentary chronicles the events that culminated in the ‘Hartal’. It highlights the principle in the leftist Constitution that gives equal rights to all citizens, an ideal that never made it to the eventual Federal Constitution.

A find in the Hansard showed that - a month after the ‘Hartal’, a Labour MP asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies about the extent of the strike in Malaya. In a written response, the State Secretary replied “the hartal was widely observed by Chinese, I am informed that the Malays, in general, took no part, and that there was little evidence of widespread enthusiasm even among the Chinese, many of whom were ignorant of the issues involved”.

Fahmi Reza’s film contradicts this piece of received information and presents the voice of ‘Hartal’ leaders who ended up in prison for their struggle to be included in the shaping of Malaya’s destiny. Exclusion is still used by the present government to override legitimate concerns of citizens and opposition politicians.

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