Orang asli to receive compensation as Johor Land and Mines Dept withdraws appeal

PUTRAJAYA (Aug 7): The Johor Government will compensate the Orang Asli of the Orang Selat descent over eviction from their land in Stulang Laut, and demolition of their chapel, nine years ago.

This follows the withdrawal of an appeal by the Johor Land and Mines Department — represented by state legal adviser Datuk Abdul Rahman Putra — against the decision of the Johor Bahru High Court which had, in 2010, awarded compensation to 50 Orang Asli, which was to be assessed by the High Court.

The High Court had ruled that the eviction of Khalip Bachik, Kelah Lah and 49 others from their land by the authorities was unlawful and the demolition of the chapel was an act of trespass.

A three-member panel led by Datuk Seri Abu Samah Nordin struck out the appeal and awarded RM5,000 in costs to the Orang Asli.

Justices Datuk Clement Allan Skinner and Datuk Aziah Ali were the other two judges presiding on the panel.

Steven Thiru, representing the Orang Asli, said that following the withdrawal of the appeal, the High Court's decision stood.

He said the next move was to go back to the High Court for assessment of damages to determine the amount of compensation.

Khalip and others are of Orang Asli Laut descent and members of the Orang Asli Christian congregation. They were originally residents of Kampung Orang Asli Stulang Laut.

They received a directive from the Johor Baru City Council in 1993, to relocate to Kampung Orang Asli Kuala Masai, on the grounds that the site they occupied was earmarked for development.

Khalip and Kelah claimed that the Orang Asli Affairs Department (JHEOA) director-general had given them an assurance that they could build a place of worship at the new settlement, and had done so upon relocation in 2003.

In 2005, 10 days before Christmas, demolition of the chapel was carried out when the community was busy making preparations for the celebration.

In their civil suit filed in December 2008, the Orang Asli had named as defendants the state land and mines department director, Johor Baru City Council and JHEOA.

However, the city council and JHEOA chose not to participate in the proceedings at the High Court.

The Johor Baru City Council did not file affidavits in defence, despite reminders, and then failed to enter an appearance when the hearing dates were fixed.

On Sept 22, 2010, the Johor Baru High Court ruled in favour of the Orang Asli and ordered the state land and mines department director and Johor Baru City Council to pay compensation to the Orang Asli.

On July 30 this year, the Appeals Court struck out the city council's appeal after allowing an objection by the Orang Asli's lawyer that the council's appeal was incompetent and an abuse of the court process.

The council had claimed that the suit had been filed under the "Johor Bahru Town Council" and not "Majlis Bandaran Johor Bahru", hence it was not bound by the order imposed by the Johor Bahru High Court.

About 60 people from the community, including children, attended the court on Tuesday. — Bernama

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