Sarawak Sights Rights and Might

Rio Tinto is raising money to buy Alcan (no debt crisis for the fat cats then), and there are rumblings about a plan to build a smelter in Sarawak, in conjunction with the chief minister of that jungle paradise (oops, I meant logging and mineral-extraction opportunity). I quote from the Herald Tribune of 7 August 2007. “Rio Tinto will hold a 60 percent stake in the venture to be known as Sarawak Aluminium Company. The remaining 40 percent will be owned by Cahya Mata, in which the family of Sarawak Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud is a key shareholder”.

OK, then how strange is it that Bakun Dam issues suddenly wash downstream (Bakun electricity will power the smelter). You can read between the lines in this press release that arrived today from Suaram [MYKAD is the curiously named Pass Card/Identity card of cyber-Malaysia - old visions from Mahathir dreams come true]):

Press Statement: 24 August 2007

SUARAM DIRECTOR DENIED ENTRY INTO SARAWAK
MYKAD IS AN ACCESSORY OF A MALAYSIAN POLICE STATE

Dr Kua Kia Soong, a director of SUARAM was denied entry into Sarawak at 9pm, 23 August 2007. Kua, who is also principal of the community-funded New Era College, was on his way to officiate the graduation ceremony of teachers who have attained the New Era College Diploma in Education at Kuching and Sibu.

After screening Kua’s MyKad, the immigration officer at Kuching airport informed him that he had been refused entry into Sarawak because he is on the “blacklist for involvement in anti-logging activities”. From the computer reading of Kua’s MyKad, the officer also knew that Kua is a former member of parliament.

Dr Kua has been an active campaigner against the Bakun Dam project and was a member of the fact finding mission to enquire into the conditions faced by indigenous peoples displaced from the Bakun area to Sungai Asap resettlement camp in 1998.

This action by the Sarawak state government is a gross violation of Malaysians’ right to freedom of movement in their own country. How can we celebrate fifty years of independence when our state governments can arbitrarily decide to deny a Malaysian the sovereign right to move freely in their own country?

More insidious is the way the new Malaysian identity card ‘My Kad’ has become the accessory of a Malaysian police state. This is a most serious abuse of Malaysians’ human right to privacy. It is clear from this incident that the My Kad is now used to store updated information and to be used arbitrarily by the authorities without any explanation being given. The immigration officer had at first refused to divulge the reason for refusing entry to Kua. The reason was only forced out of the officer through persistent demands by Kua.

In recent years, Kua has been going in and out of Sarawak using his old identity card without being refused entry. Clearly, the new “smart” My Kad carries an entire dossier about every Malaysian and has given authorities new resolve to settle old scores!

This incident shows that all information about Malaysians is used interchangeably between federal and state governments. For certain, all government departments have access to MyKad dossier about every Malaysian. Is this dossier also available to banks and credit companies? Who decides? Do we know?

As we reach the 50th anniversary of independence, we grieve the death of our right to privacy and the coming of age of a Malaysian police state. We baulk at the fact that one who cares for the forests, resources and indigenous peoples of Malaysia can be cast out of a Malaysian state while tycoons and politicians who rape an entire forest are feted as “towering Malaysians” and patriots. This brings to mind Samuel Johnson observation that “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel!”

Suaram condemns the Sarawak government for this arbitrary exercise of state power to refuse entry to a Malaysian who has been actively concerned to protect Sarawakian forests, resources and indigenous peoples’ rights.

Suaram calls for an explanation from the federal government regarding the information about Malaysian citizens that have been encoded in the My Kad and the extent of interchangeability of this information with other authorities and bodies.

Suaram calls on the Malaysian people to demand accountability from their government regarding the invasion of their right to privacy and an end to the makings of a police state in Malaysia.

I have more on Bakun (from Left Curve 23 1999 ‘Resettling Bakun: Consultancy, Anthropologists and Development’
and more on Rit Tinto in the categories…
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