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Malaysian socialists arrested during protest against forced eviction of farmers

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Picture: Parti Sosialis Malaysia – PSM chairperson and former parliamentarian, Michael Jeyakumar Devaraj, is among the four who have been arrested for resisting an eviction drive against 200 farmers in the Prime Ministers’ constituency, in a crackdown on farmers’ protests in Perak, Malaysia.

By Anish RM

During a major stand-off between farmers and local authorities in northwestern Malaysia on Tuesday, October 24, 2023, four people including three members of the Parti Sosialis Malaysia , the Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM), and a farmer, were violently arrested. They were protesting against land evictions in Kanthan, near Ipoh, the state capital of Perak.

The violent arrests happened as farmers of Kanthan protested attempts by the officials of the state Lands and Mines Office (PTG) to evict nearly 200 people from lands they have been cultivating for generations.

Among those arrested on Tuesday was PSM chairperson and former parliamentarian, Michael Jeyakumar Devaraj, who has been at the forefront of the struggle against the evictions. The other three detainees were Karthiges Manickam, Ho Pon Tien, and Kesavan Parvathy.

In a statement released immediately after the arrest, PSM condemned the “highhanded action by the Perak State Government on farmers that feed the rakyat [the people]”, and demanded immediate and unconditional release of all four of detainees.

Eventually, Jeyakumar and others were charged for obstructing government officials from carrying out their duties and released on bail after nearly 10 hours in custody.

The altercation also caused minor injuries to another socialist activist and PSM central committee member Chong Yee Shan, who broke her teeth in a fall while being manhandled by PTG and district police officers, which was caught on video.

According to PSM, the officers ignored her and “kept pushing forward to demolish the farm lands”. Human rights group Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM) also condemned the violent attack on the activists.

“We’re outraged by physical violence by a PTG officer towards activist Chong Yee Shan during a forced eviction in Kanthan this morning,” read the SUARAM statement in response to the violence.

The stand-off was the result of the looming eviction drive by the state government to clear a large section of cultivated land in Kanthan, to make way for the proposed Kanthan Industrial Area, a project site for the state government’s Silver Valley Technology Park.

Earlier this month, local authorities and PTG officials started handing out notices to over 200 farmers, in Kanthan and other parts of the Kinta district, claiming that they are occupying Perak State Development Corporation (PKNP) owned land illegally and asked them to evict their lands in seven days’ time.

According to the farmers, their families have cultivated the lands for generations with the knowledge of the local authorities. They also said they were given no prior notice, nor were they given the chance to defend their claims to the land.

Kanthan falls within the Tambun federal constituency, which is currently represented by prime minister Anwar Ibrahim. On October 19, farmers threatened with eviction handed over a memorandum to Ibrahim, highlighting their plight, but there has been no response yet.

Many farmers have been working on these lands for three generations or more and have been one of the main sources of vegetables to nearby cities like Ipoh. Farmers and PSM activists have also pointed out that previous administrations have promised new land leases to them, acknowledging their claims to the lands.

“The notice claimed that the farmers were residing illegally, which is incorrect because in 2010 there were meetings held between the farmers with PKNP and the Ipoh district and land office to discuss the farming activities on the same land,” a PSM representative, Sarat Babu, told The Star.

In November 2012, the PKNP issued a letter to the farmers promising them an alternative cultivation site of 2 acres, with a 30-year lease period, to make way for an upcoming industrial project in the area. But as the previous industrial project was shelved over various reasons, the farmers continued to cultivate in the area with an understanding with the PKNP.

In the brief the PSM released in response to the arrest, PSM General Secretary Sivarajan asked, “Why evict productive farmers, when they have applied for the land, waited patiently to comply with the state government offer for alternative land? It was the Perak State that failed to relocate them,” he added. “Where is the state government commitment to food security?”

PSM has strongly criticised the eviction attempts as yet another attack on the spiralling food security problems in the country. Malaysia is heavily dependent on food imports to sustain its basic needs. But as global supply chains continue to remain affected by post-pandemic pressures and the war in Ukraine, Malaysia continues to face uncertainty on food security. In 2022, food inflation nearly doubled from 3.6 percent to 7.2 percent and has barely slowed down to around 4 percent by July this year. The stress is especially felt in lower-income households.

Anish RM is a writer for Peoples Dispatch

This article was first published on Peoples Dispatch