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6 de octubre de 2014 | | | | | |

Living in darkness: Moving account of the situation in Bukit Koman (Malaysia): "it is so unfair to live like this"

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"We don´t know what the company is doing, what causes our suffering, we know nothing", said activist Sherly Hue, from Bukit Koman, Raub District, Pahang State, where a mining company that uses sodium cyanide to extract gold is operating. "We are living in darkness", she expressed.

"We don´t know what the company is doing, what causes our suffering, we know nothing", said activist Sherly Hue, from Bukit Koman, Raub District, Pahang State, where a mining company that uses sodium cyanide to extract gold is operating. "We are living in darkness", she expressed.

Sherly is 36 years old and she has two children, aged 6 and 8, and is pregnant. She is facing a trial for defamation brought by the company Raub Australian Gold Mining Pte Ltd, owned by British corporation Peninsular Gold Limited. She is the Vice President of the Ban Cyanide in Gold Mining Action Committee created in 2006 to resist against the factory that was built and started operating in 2009.

It was by early 2009 that Sherly, facing the persistence of her parents to move to Kuala Lumpur, started to study the case of the mining company in her territory. She found out that the leaching process and the use of sodium cyanide can be extremely dangerous. "I felt we needed to do something, we needed to educate the people". And that´s how she started to prepare materials with information for the community of just 3000 people.

Raub Australian Gold Mining Pte Ltd has a gold processing plant in this area which uses sodium cyanide to obtain gold. Since the factory started its operations, the population has been suffering skin allergies, eye and respiratory problems, among other effects. Sherly´s mother suffers from skin problems. The entire family moved to Kuala Lumpur.

"We are worried about the people’s health, we are worried about the place they are living. We are worried about the whole environment. Myself, I am worried about what we are going to leave for our next generations", said Sherly in an interview with Real World Radio that was conducted as part of a solidarity mission of Friends of the Earth International in Pahang State (September 21-25).

Criminalizing the claims of a concerned community

According to Sherly and activist Tan Hui Chun, human rights defender and member of the KL Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall that is supporting the struggle of Bukit Koman´s inhabitants, during the first and second month of operation of the mining company, there were over 300 claims filed by villagers with health problems with the local assemblyman’s office.

In 2010, a University conducted a health study. But the results were never made public.

In 2012, the Ban Cyanide in Gold Mining Action Committee and some support groups carried out their own study where they interviewed 383 volunteers from Bukit Koman. The results were ready in June and showed 50 per cent of people claimed to having respiratory problems, and 40 per cent of them reported eye problems and allergies.

"We decided to announce the results to the public and organize a press conference in Kuala Lumpur. The company was not happy with the press conference and brought us to court for defamation". According to the explanations given by advisors to the community, they have allegedly accused the factory of indirectly being the cause of their health problems "without evidence".

If Sherly loses her trial, she will have to apologize publicly to Raub Australian Gold Mining Pte Ltd, compensate the company for damages, pay for the legal costs of the trial and most likely to remain silent about the company in the future. One other community leader similarly accused of defamation tendered his apology in open court recently, in order to amicably settle the matter. Sherly preferred not to, she believes this wasn´t a mistake and that the struggle of the community is just. "We are fighting for our rights. It´s everyone´s right to live in a safe place. I don’t see we have done anything wrong", said Sherly, adding that "the company brought to court ordinary women like us just because we speak our truth".

Complete lack of transparency

"We have requested for dialogue with the company, we requested the related government departments to disclose some information but we get nothing" said Sherly in the interview with Real World Radio. The activist is upset with the "lack of transparency".

They don´t know what the company is doing or not doing, what the cause of the health problems in the local community is, the potential impacts of the plant´s operation on the environment, what could happen in the future, among many other things.

"But nobody can give us an answer. Nobody (the authority) has explained to us what’s actually going on. (...) The people do not know what they can do. It is so unfair to live like this", said Sherly. "They are using tons of chemicals in the factory. At least let us know, if an accident happens, what should we know and what should we do, what’s the emergency response plan. They refuse to talk to us".

Sherly has the corporate and legal system burden on her shoulders. She speaks and tears flow from her eyes. Her heartache is clear. She thinks what her people are dealing with is extremely sad and is demanding the company and the government to be more humane and to at least speak to them. In a talk before the interview with Real World Radio she said: "I´m worried about what the people in Bukit Koman are going through, my concerns about my legal case are not important".

Imagen: Víctor Barro - Friends of the Earth International

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