Land Code controversy: PKR leader prepared to face Uggah in court

Vernon (seated, second from left) showing a copy of the Letter of Demand issued by a law firm acting on Uggah’s behalf. Also seen is Sarawak PKR vice-chairman See Chee How (seated centre) and other party leaders.

KUCHING, August 1: Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) Betong chief Vernon Kedit is prepared to face Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah Embas in court for questioning the deputy chief minister’s interpretation of “usufructuary right” over the native customary rights (NCR) land issue.

The state Pakatan Harapan (PH) information chief was served with a Letter of Demand by Uggah’s lawyer on Monday (July 30) to retract an allegedly libellous statement and to offer a written apology to be published in newspapers in Sarawak.

The letter also demanded Vernon to promise not to make such statements against Uggah in the future, to pay all legal costs incurred and to pay a sum of not less than RM1 million in damages as compensation for allegedly defaming Uggah in a WhatsApp group chat.

The deadline to meet the demand expires at 5pm today (Wednesday), and Vernon, standing by his statement, said he had no intention to meet the deadline.

“I fight for and defend the rights of all Sarawakians, but now I am victimised for doing so. Lawyer’s letters do not intimidate me nor cow me into submission. Conversely, they provoke me to fight on,” Vernon told a press conference at state PKR headquarters here today.

The said allegation refers to the controversial Sarawak Land Code (Amendment) Bill, 2018 that was passed in the State Legislative Assembly recently. Vernon opined that the amendment would gravely affect full ownership of ancestral native customary lands and native customary rights.

“Douglas Uggah takes offence that I have questioned his dubious interpretation of the term ‘usufructuary right’, the definition of ‘pulau galau’ and ‘pemakai menua’ into ‘native territorial domain’, its limitation to a mere 1,000ha, and that Section 6A of the Bill gives proprietary interest to NCR. Therefore, he has resorted to this legal challenge,” he said.

Vernon explained that his comments were made strictly on behalf of the native communities, especially the Iban community, of which Uggah and he belong to.

He argued that the comments were made in the course of academic, legal and political discussions surrounding the amendment to the Sarawak Land Code.

Vernon opined that Uggah, as a politician, should know that the comments were made in the interest of the natives, particular the Ibans, who hold the most NCR lands in Sarawak.

“I am disappointed that he has chosen to resort to this action to silence me, instead of encouraging transparent discussion.

“I hope all natives and native NGOs in Sarawak who value and defend their native customary lands that understand the issue, especially with the legal definition of ‘usufructuary right’ that does not give ownership on the land, will be 100 per cent behind me and my legal team as we bring this matter to court to settle it once and for all.

“If the deputy chief minister of Sarawak intends to drag me to court for defending the natives, I will oblige him for the sake of all that the natives hold dear,” Vernon said. — DayakDaily