Justice for Temiars: Gua Musang territory named "customary land" of Orang Asli

Sharifah Mahsinah Abdullah

KOTA BARU: The Temiar Orang Asli community in Pos Belatim here scored a major victory today.

After much struggle and controversy, the community was finally named official owners of 1,300 hectares of their customary land near Gua Musang, which had been in danger of further encroachment by loggers and the oil palm industry.

The decision was made by Kuala Terengganu court judge, Datuk Zainal Azman Ab Aziz, in his 20-minute judgement at the Kota Baru High Court, today.

Zainal also ruled that the land be reserved as aboriginal land and that the Temiar have the right to live there.

In addition, the judge ordered the state government to gazette the land – parts of which had already been cultivated by a third party and turned into an oil palm plantation.

"The land had been given by the state government to a private company to be developed into an oil palm plantation. However, today, I have made the decision that it is the customary land of the Orang Asli of the Temiar tribe.

"The land must be surveyed and the title be issued to the Orang Asli. The state government has one month to do the survey works," he said.

Lawyer Lim Heng Seng was the lead counsel for the Orang Asli. He was assisted by Yogeswaran Subramaniam, Tan Hooi Peng and M. Rahj Kumar; while Kelantan assistant legal adviser, Nazlyza Mohd Nazri, represented the state government.

In 2011, the Temiars discovered that their customary land had been contracted out to a private company by the Kelantan state government, for development into an oil palm plantation, on a 99-year lease.

The community filed a judicial review the same year against the state government and its land administrator, but the case was thrown out by the High Court in 2014.

They are also seeking, among other declarations, a Certiorari Order from the court to stop the Kelantan state government from carrying out the project and giving their land to the private corporation.

However, the Court of Appeal ordered a retrial, ruling that the High Court judge had erred in his decision to throw out the case.