By: Mike Gaworecki
Date: 24 June 2016
Bill Kayong, a dedicated indigenous and land rights activist in Malaysia’s Sarawak state, was killed in a drive-by shooting while waiting at a traffic light in broad daylight on Wednesday.
Bill Kayong, a dedicated land rights activist and member of the opposition party in Malaysia’s Sarawak state, was killed in a drive-by shooting while waiting at a traffic light in broad daylight on Wednesday.
Sarawak Criminal Investigation Department chief Dev Kumar told The Borneo Post that the case is being classified as a murder, but appealed to the public to avoid speculating on who might be responsible as the police conduct their investigation. He also asked for any member of the public who might have information about the assassination of Bill Kayong to come forward.
“We are appealing to witnesses who may have witnessed the shooting to come forward to assist the police in the investigation,” Kumar said. “The traffic light intersection is normally busy during that time of the morning and we believe many motorists may have witnessed the incident.”
Rick Jacobsen of London-based NGO Global Witness said in a statement that “The brutal slaying of land rights champion Bill Kayong shows the risks faced by activists in Sarawak who stand up to the powerful interests behind land grabbing and environmental devastation.”
The killing came the day after Global Witness released a report documenting the dramatic increase in violence against activists like Kayong around the world — more than three environmental activists were killed every week in 2015 while defending their forests, land, and rivers from destructive industries.
Sarawak is plagued by corruption, human rights violations against indigenous communities, and environmental destruction, and activists and indigenous communities who speak out often face repression by the government while violence against them goes unpunished, according to Global Witness. “The Malaysian authorities must take swift action to identify those responsible and bring them to justice,” Jacobsen added.
A Malaysian activist named Adrian Banie Lasimbang told Mongabay that Kayong was an indigenous rights activist and community organizer who worked tirelessly for political change in Sarawak and was active with the NGO Persatuan Dayak Sarawak (PEDAS).
“Like other indigenous activists in Malaysia, he actively conducted paralegal activities to raise the rights awareness in communities facing land grabbing by big oil palm or timber companies,” Lasimbang said. Kayong assisted many communities facing land grabs in filing court cases, and helped mobilize communities to stage protests and blockades targeting companies that were destroying villages, communal forests, and communal areas called “Pemakai Menoa” in the Iban language, according to Lasimbang.
“[Bill Kayong] was always on the frontline, making him and maybe other activists a target of companies that employ thugs or gangsters to intimidate the communities and activists alike,” he said.