Tijah Yok Chopil, a prominent Semai leader, gave a speech on Tuesday last week in which she castigated the one-year-old Pakatan Harapan government of Malaysia for continuing to ignore the rights of the Orang Asli. An article on May 28 in the Malay Mail reviewed her charges.

Tijah Yok Chopil
Tijah Yok Chopil (Screenshot from the video “Orang Asli Struggle for Land Rights, by Malaysiakini TV, Creative Commons license)

Tijah said that the Orang Asli were quite upset by what she termed “rude” statements made by the Chief Minister of the state of Perak and other PH party leaders. The Menteri Besar, the Chief Minister, Datuk Seri Ahmad Faizal Azumu, had recently commented about a dispute between an Orang Asli community and the state over the community’s demand that the state approve their ownership of 12,456 hectares of customary lands.

The Chief Minister replied that the state needed to take action against people who encroach on government lands since Malaysia is not a cowboy nation. “We understand PH had just become the government, but as a small community that has been oppressed for a long time, we feel that the slow progress of the PH government in the period of either 100 days or 10 months reflects that there are not many changes made for the Orang Asli community,” the reporter quoted the Semai leader as saying.

Tijah, who has been mentioned a number of times in news stories over the years, went on to say that during the many decades that the Barisan Nasional (BN) party was in power, Orang Asli voices were “twisted.” Lands belonging traditionally to the Orang Asli were taken away and used for development projects. This was seen as good for the country. “And now under [the] PH government, the situation is the same or even much worse,” she said.

Banners for both the BN and the Pakatan Harapan parties were displayed on a tree
Banners for both the BN and the Pakatan Harapan parties were displayed on a tree (Photo by tian yake on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

Tijah reportedly got tears in her eyes as she discussed the upset among the Orang Asli at this turn of events. They had worked in the run-up to the national elections in May 2018 against the BN, viewing their 60 years in power as a time of discrimination against the original people of Malaysia. They had hoped for better from the PH party. A photo accompanying the Malay Mail story shows her with her hand up to her eyes.

She gave her speech at the launch of the Annual Human Rights Report 2018 in Kuala Lumpur by a human rights advocacy group called Suara Rakyat Malaysia, or SUARAM. Another speaker on the program that day, Kua Kia Soong, said in his speech that nothing much had been achieved for human rights in Malaysia over the past year since the PH party had been in power.