Gebril Atong, center being interviewed by the press.

This is the first lawsuit, probably not the last filed by Punan Bah communities against Sarawak Government, logging companies encroaching their lands. Punan communities are increasingly more aware of protecting their rights particularly land ownership rights.

As reported in The Star Tuesday July 22, 2014:

SIBU: Longhouse residents of Punan Bah in Belaga have filed a suit against seven timber-related companies for allegedly encroaching into their native customary rights (NCR) land to carry out logging.

Their case yesterday was heard before High Court’s senior assistant registrar Zaiton Annuar who fixed Aug 20 for further mention.

In the writ of summons, they also named the state Forest Department director, Planning and Environment Minister and the state government as the eighth, ninth and 10th defendants.

In their suit, the plaintiffs Gebril Atong, 37, Sayang Kawang, 70, Medik Kojan, 61, and residents of the longhouse claimed they are the rightful owners, claimants, proprietors and/or licensees of the NCR land or forests within the vicinity of their respective village or longhouse and/or farmhouses situated at Punan Bah, Belaga.

According to the suit, the said NCR land consists part of the plaintiffs’ native customary land or communal land or territorial domain locally referred to as “Baliu Kano” and/or “Ipung Popien” (preserved forests) and or “talun” (farmed land or secondary forest created before Jan 1, 1958 and such NCR is recognised by the Sarawak Land Code (Cap.81) 1958; that the said NCR Land is largely the hilly or mountainous region, which is part and parcel of a bigger area claimed by the plaintiffs as their respective NCR land; and that the said land is not just a source of livelihood to the plaintiffs and their descendants’ social, cultural and spiritual survival as native people.

Further, the plaintiffs claimed that their NCR is recognised under the principles of common law, which is part of the law of Malaysia and Sarawak.

Since time immemorial, the plaintiffs had established and maintained a comprehensive scheme by which, through their law, customs, tradition and practices they determined questions concerning their ownership, use, management of lands, forests and rivers surrounding their village.

The plaintiffs also claimed that despite repeated protests and objections by them, the first to seventh defendants had continued to wrongfully trespass onto the native customary land, and with the aid of bulldozers, lorries, trucks and excavators, had cleared and damaged a large part of the land.

The plaintiffs further stated in the writs of summons that as a consequence of the trespass by the first to seventh defendants at the area, they have suffered losses and damages and will suffer more thereafter, which cannot be compensated by any order of costs.

Among others, they claimed that several rivers at their area were found to be polluted, murky and had affected their lives; that the hunting grounds and fishing grounds were destroyed or disrupted as well as fruit trees and crops planted by them or their forefathers destroyed and felled for the first to seventh defendants’ benefits.

The plaintiffs are seeking a prohibitory injunction restraining the first to seventh defendants from trespassing, clearing, using or occupying the land.

A mandatory injunction against the first, third and sixth defendants was also sought to cease their operations and remove all structures and their equipment or machinery from the land forthwith.

The plaintiffs requested that their loss and damages suffered to be assessed by the deputy registrar of the High Court, and any further order or relief deemed fit and proper by the court.

The plaintiffs were represented by counsel Abun Sui Anyit.

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