Malaysia: Former socialist MP arrested defending small farmers facing eviction

November 1, 2023
protester in front of bulldozer
Malaysian Socialist Party (PSM) chairperson and former member of parliament Dr Michael Jeyakumar Devaraj sitting in the path of a bulldozer sent to destroy farmland. Photo: PSM

Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM) chairperson and former member of parliament Dr Michael Jeyakumar Devaraj was arrested on October 24, along with a local farmer and two other PSM activists, for blocking a bulldozer attempting to destroy farmland in Kanthan, in the state of Perak.

Shortly after he was released on bail, Devaraj told Green Left that he and the others had blocked the bulldozer to highlight the grave threat to nearly 2000 small farmers growing vegetables and farming fish in the state.

Farmers in this area, who are of Chinese ethnicity, have been productively farming tracts of land cleared from the jungle by their families in the 1940s.

At the time, the government of the day encouraged this because it made entire communities self-sufficient. But today, the state government is seeking to convert the land for industrial use and is seeking to do so in cooperation with private developers.

“The state government is going for quick financial returns and is prepared to sacrifice our state’s food producing capacity. We are currently handling the cases of seven other groups of farmers in the Kinta District who are facing the same problem,” Devaraj said.

The farmers were promised alternative land but were only offered hilly land that is unsuitable for farming.

Eviction notices were issued to six farmers on October 13, giving them a week’s notice to vacate. This prompted the protest on October 24 when state authorities turned up with a bulldozer and assaulted at least one protester.

“These farmers are not criminals but people who are feeding the community,” Devaraj said.

“The PSM has been helping these farmers appeal to the state authorities, the state government, the chief minister of Perak and even Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim [in whose electorate the farmland is situated] to change the policy so as not to disrupt these farms.

“But the authorities have refused to listen. So the people must help the farmers.”

Ironically many of the farmers facing eviction say they voted for Ibrahim in the last election in the belief that if elected, his government would save them.

The High Court granted an interim injunction on October 26 against the evictions until the farmers’ application for a judicial review is heard on January 12.

The farmers are only seeking two-acre plots of land or equivalent compensation.

Deveraj said that the laws governing the state’s powers to dispose of land were open to abuse and invited corruption because they “concentrated too much power in the hands of the chief minister”, adding that there was an urgent need for a mechanism of checks and balances.

In a statement made outside the Perak chief minister's office on October 26, Devaraj said that it is very important for the food security and well-being of Malaysians for state governments to “prioritise the preservation of land areas that produce fresh vegetables, fruits and fish for our people”.

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