Natives fight for ancestral land freedom

A group of 50 natives from Kampung Imahit, Kemabong, Tenom arrived early this morning at the Kota Kinabalu Court House to attend an appeal hearing before High Court Judge David Wong in a bid to recover their freedom to their 3,843.6 hectares Native Customary Land currently planted with fruit crops.

The group which came from some 450 km south of Kota Kinabalu, were dressed in their native costumes, singing songs and dancing to bamboo musical instruments.

They claimed that the Forestry Department evicted them from their ancestral lands where more than 100 graves of their forebears in nine grave sites could be found as evidence.

The Forestry Department claimed that the land was now a forest reserve gazetted in 1984.

The department’s officers arrested six men and seven women who were found planting hill paddy at their ancestral lands on Oct 29, 2009.

The six men were further remanded for three days at the Tenom police station lockup under the Forestry Enactment 1968 for trespassing into a forest reserve and for cultivating crops in a forest reserve.

They pleaded innocence as they were never informed of the gazettement of the lands as a forest reserve nor were they consulted over the matter.

On Nov 12, 2010, they were found guilty as charged by the Magistrate of the Tenom Magistrate Court and were fined a total of RM6,000.

Dissatisfied with the verdict, they failed an appeal to the High Court at Kota Kinabalu.

The hearing was scheduled for today but was postponed to tomorrow as the DPP was unprepared for the case.

The DPP appealed the case to be heard on Monday Feb 21, 2011 but the judge ruled that the case has to proceed tomorrow afternoon as the people have
come a long way, spent a lot of money besides putting up with well-wishers and friends in Kota Kinabalu.

The natives are represented by lawyer Ram Singh on a pro bono basis.

Ram Singh is scheduled to appear in another case in Tenom on Tuesday Feb 22, 2011 where houses of some villagers were bulldozed by the Forestry Department officers.

The judge reminded the DPP that the Chief Judge had expressed concern that the postponement of cases is causing a loss of RM50 per case in cost that has accumulated to millions of ringgit.

According to their spokesman Barani Ambisi, 42, of Murut Tahol descent (013-8735935), their village Kg. Imahit exists even before Merdeka.

It is situated some 10 km from Kemabong town and about 55 km from Tenom town with about 500 villagers of Murut Tahol ancestry.

They wanted their conviction overturned and that they be allowed to freely cultivate their lands since the time of their ancestors before Malaysia or Sabah came about.

Tenom is a small town in the Interior Division of Sabah. It was formerly known as Fort Birch under the British. The town has a population of 46,200 people (2000 est.) with the majority being the Murut (60%), followed by Chinese (20%), and other races including Malays and Kadazan-Dusun.

Located in Sabah’s scenic interior, Tenom has the soaring Crocker Range forming a backdrop to the town. It is the terminus of the North Borneo Railway, which runs from Tanjung Aru near Kota Kinabalu, 134 km away. It is one of the places which saw an uprising against British colonialism led by famous Murut chieftain Ontoros Antonom. A memorial to the fallen warriors can be seen off the main road.

Tenom is also famous for it’s aromatic coffee.