(MIRI / SARAWAK) This morning — two years after Samling filed a defamation lawsuit against Indigenous grassroots organization SAVE Rivers — the logging company has dropped the case. The lawsuit was scheduled for trial today at the Miri High Court but was canceled after a last minute settlement. Samling originally sought an apology, an injunction stopping SAVE Rivers from reporting community claims under their #StopTheChop campaign, and damages in the sum of RM5,000,000. The disputed articles and community claims that were the subject of the suit remain on the SAVE Rivers website without edits. They describe the weak community consultations in logging concessions managed by Samling and the company’s inadequate handling of community complaints. The withdrawal follows the publication of a joint statement between the two parties.
The Gerenai Community Rights Action Committee (GCRAC), a community organization with representatives from villages that have territories within the Gerenai Forest Management Unit (FMU), gathered in front of the Miri High Court to celebrate the victory. Boyce Ngau, vice-president of GCRAC, commented: “This is a huge victory for SAVE Rivers and the communities they support, and a humiliating backdown for Samling. SAVE Rivers and the communities stood and will continue to stand in solidarity with each other. No one thought that we could win against such a powerful company, but we proved everyone wrong. The communities are happy that SAVE Rivers is committed to continuing their duty as a CSO to disseminate information and advocate for Indigenous Peoples and environmental rights.”
Giovanni Reyes, Chair of the Global Environmental Facility’s Indigenous Peoples Advisory Group, traveled to Miri to attend the trial: “Samling’s website is full of statements about the environment and sustainability. But by suing SAVE Rivers, they have proven that these are all just empty promises and that forest certification is a sham. When I first read about the Samling case against the communities, I knew Samling would lose. Only now Samling is realizing how powerful the communities are, they take their power from their long presence in their territory. Indigenous Peoples have a power that no money can buy. This attack by Samling against SAVE Rivers is an attack on all of us as the whole world is one. Samling put to shame the Malaysian government’s commitment to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) and sustainability.”
Samling has recently come under increasing international pressure. The United Nations Special Rapporteurs on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights Defenders agreed that the lawsuit may be classified as a Strategic Lawsuit against Public Participation (SLAPP) designed to silence SAVE Rivers from speaking out. In April, 160 global Civil Society Organizations sent a letter to Samling asking the company to #StopTheSLAPP. In May this year, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) opened an investigation into Samling. Last week news got out that Samling lost the certificate for sustainable forest management for their Ravenscourt FMU in Northern Sarawak under the Malaysian Timber Certification Scheme (MTCS), which is endorsed by PEFC International.
Meenakshi Raman, President of Sahabat Alam Malaysia - Friends of the Earth Malaysia, commented on the closure of the case: “The withdrawal of this lawsuit by Samling shows that people power reigns and corporations should think twice before filing any vexatious lawsuits against environmental defenders. The aim should not be to silence critics but to work towards ensuring that people and the environment are always above profits.”
Jenny Weber from the Bob Brown Foundation in Australia traveled to Malaysia to observe the scheduled trial: “The world has been watching while a Sarawak logging company has attempted to silence SAVE Rivers. It has not worked. Indigenous-led human rights and environmental defenders can be proud of not backing down and upholding the community's right to free speech. Our planet is in such dire need for all forests and Indigenous rights to be protected, the world is with SAVE Rivers. Here is another example of Earth's defenders staying defiant while facing SLAPPs. Sarawak's forest destruction will continue to face local and global scrutiny and opposition.”