Two logging firms have applied to initiate contempt of court proceedings against eight villagers and their lawyer.
This is part of a lawsuit between the firms - Beijing Million Sdn Bhd and Rosah Timber & Trading Sdn Bhd - and Kampung Baharu, a village in Jerantut, Pahang.
The companies obtained an injunction on Nov 5, 2020, to stop the eight defendants from accessing a contested 202.61ha area in the Jerantut Tambahan forest reserve. They are also suing the villagers for making accusations about them.
The defendants previously protested their logging activities, saying the villagers relied on the forest reserve to earn a living.
Speaking to Malaysiakini, lawyer Charles Hector Fernandez said the contempt of court action was initiated over a letter he sent to a Jerantut Forestry Office officer on Dec 17, 2020, on behalf of his clients in preparation for the case.
The logging firms contend that the letter constituted a violation of the injunction order.
“On Feb 20, 2020, a letter was issued by a Jerantut Forestry Officer. In his letter, he seemed to state as fact that there were a protest, disturbance and blockade by the villagers. It was for this reason that he immediately suspended all logging activities until the issue was over.
“The application for leave to commence contempt proceedings is based on a letter I sent privately only to this officer seeking clarifications, which the plaintiff alleged is a breach of the injunction order,” he explained when contacted.
Fernandez contended that his actions did not violate the injunction and will be represented by lawyer M Ramachelvam in the contempt proceedings.
The Bar Council has applied to hold a watching brief for the case.
The logging firms, represented by Messrs Jacob Goldie S.S. Chew, filed the ex-parte application in January, but the hearing was postponed due to the second movement control order (MCO 2.0).
The hearing for their application for leave to commence contempt proceedings has now been fixed for next Thursday (March 25) at the Kuantan High Court.
The defendants’ application to transfer the case to the Temerloh High Court and amend their pleadings are also fixed for the same date.
“The big worry is whether I, who has been appointed as counsel for the eight defendants, can even defend my clients at the hearing,” Fernandez said.
‘Don’t deprive lawyers of rights’
NGO Aliran has since condemned the move.
“This initiation of contempt proceedings against Fernandez and the eight defendants is extremely worrying and can be seen as a travesty of justice.
“Silencing a lawyer through contempt proceedings is essentially preventing lawyers from carrying out their professional duty to their clients,” it said in a statement dated March 16.
Aliran further said that a lawyer ought to be able to obtain all necessary documents before a trial.
“Lawyers should not be deprived of their right to prepare for a trial, including obtaining all the salient facts to argue their case in court.
“The defendants should not be denied their right to a counsel of their choice,” it said.