Malaysia: Dayak Leaders in Sarawak Condemn Activist’s Killing

Dennis Wong
160621-MY-sarawak-condemn-620.jpg At a press conference in Kuching, Sarawak, NGOs representing Dayaks show solidarity with Bill Kayong, a land-rights activist who was gunned down in the East Malaysia state, June 21, 2016.
Dennis Wong/BenarNews

Dayak community leaders and NGOs expressed shock and anger after a land-rights activist who campaigned on behalf of indigenous communities was gunned down Tuesday at an intersection in the eastern Malaysian state of Sarawak.

Activist Bill Kayong, 43, a Dayak who was a secretary for the local branch of the opposition People’s Justice Party (PKR) and who recently ran for a seat in the Sarawak state assembly, was shot dead in Miri city as he was driving to work on Tuesday morning, according to police.

“Kayong has done a lot for the community and we will continue our fight. You touch one Dayak, you touch all Dayaks. This incident will only make us stronger,” Peter John Jaban, a fellow indigenous rights activist, told BenarNews.

Indigenous leaders in Sarawak – a timber-rich and largely undeveloped state on Borneo island, whose population is dominated by tribal communities – joined civil society leaders across Malaysia in condemning Kayong’s killing. He had also served as secretary for Pedas, an NGO advocating rights for Dayaks in Sarawak.

Following the shooting, 13 local NGOs representing local tribes held a news conference in Kuching, the state capital, where they voiced solidarity with the slain activist.

“In light of this senseless act, we call and urge the Dayak communities to keep calm and not to take the laws into their own hands,” Dusit Jaul, president of the Sarawak Dayak Graduates’ Association, told the news conference.

“We do not want to speculate on the matter. All we want is for the police to investigate and not let the culprits go unpunished. We want justice for Kayong,” Jaul added.

Baru Bian, chairman of the PKR in Sarawak, remembered Kayong as “a young man zealously pursuing justice for the people.”

“We have lost a loyal comrade and a good friend. Words cannot begin to express the sorrow and outrage we feel that Bill was so brutally and coldly shot and killed,” the PKR chairman said in a statement.

Kayong, a father of two, had contested the seat for the Bekenu constituency in last month’s state assembly elections, but lost to incumbent Rosey Yunus, a member of the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition.

‘A new battleground’

Kayong was shot dead a day after Global Witness, a London-based NGO, reported that 185 environmental activists were killed last year worldwide, marking a 59 percent increase from 2014.

Among those killed were six activists from India, three from Indonesia and two from Thailand. The Global Witness report, titled “On Dangerous Ground,” cited the case of Salim Kancil, an Indonesian farmer who had helped lead protests against an illegal sand-mining operation in East Java province and who was beaten, electrocuted and stabbed to death by at least a dozen men in September 2015.

“2015 was the worst year on record for killings of land and environmental defenders – people struggling to protect their land, forests and rivers through peaceful actions, against mounting odds,” the report by Global Witness said.

“The environment is emerging as a new battleground for human rights. As demand for products like timber, minerals and palm oil continues, governments, companies and criminal gangs are exploiting land with little regard for the people who live on it.”

Natural resource-rich Sarawak has long been a battleground for campaigners advocating environmental conservation and land rights for local tribes. Sixteen years ago, Bruno Manser, a Swiss environmentalist who had been campaigning for the rights of the state’s indigenous people, disappeared and is presumed dead.

Police set up task force

On Tuesday, police in Sarawak appealed to the public for help in tracking down Kayong’s killers.

“The traffic light intersection is normally busy during that time of the morning and we believe many motorists may have witnessed the incident,” Dev Kumar, chief senior assistant commissioner for the state’s Criminal Investigation Department, said in a statement.

In Kuala Lumpur, Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar said his department had formed a task force to probe the killing in Sarawak, but he warned the public not to speculate about a motive in the case.

“Let us probe what really happened. We will find out how and what happened in due time,” The Star newspaper quoted Khalid as saying.

Bill Kayong, shown at the Malaysian Parliament, was shot dead while on his way to work in Sarawak state on June 21, 2016. [BenarNews]


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