Timber Giant Samling Withdraws SLAPP Lawsuit Against Sarawak Activists
Timber giant Samling is one of the biggest logging companies on the island of Borneo in Malaysia. After SAVE Rivers, a local NGO, posted articles critical of the company’s lack of consultation with local Indigenous communities, the company sued for defamation in 2021. After two years of local and international pressure, Samling finally withdrew the US$1.05 million lawsuit.
“The withdrawal of this lawsuit by Samling shows that people power reigns and corporations should think twice before filing any vexatious lawsuits against environmental defenders.” – Meenakshi Raman, president of the Friends of the Earth Malaysia
Samling Timber is the biggest of the six timber companies that control 70 percent of logging concessions in Sarawak province on the island of Borneo. The Miri-based company extracts timber from three forest concessions on the land of the Penan Indigenous peoples. Penan communities have regularly mounted legal challenges and protests against the company’s activities.
SAVE Rivers, an environmental NGO based in Sarawak, published seven articles between June 2020 and March 2021 as part of its #StopTheChop campaign, stating that the company had not properly consulted Penan communities living close to Gerenai and Bakia concessions. Audits conducted by SIRIM, Malaysia’s inspection and certification body, in 2019, 2021 and 2022 backed up this claim.
In 2021, Samling sued SAVE Rivers for 5 million ringgit (US$1.07 million) for defamation, demanding that the NGO apologize and take down the articles. However, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights Defenders labeled the action as a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) lawsuit, meant to silence activists.
Over the last two years, pressure has mounted on Samling to #StopTheSLAPP. Over 160 NGOs signed a petition to urge the company to drop the lawsuit. The Forest Stewardship Council launched an investigation into Samling’s alleged illegal logging and the Malaysian Timber Certification Council (MTCC) withdrew one of Samling’s Sarawak concessions.
“Samling’s website is full of statements about the environment and sustainability. But by suing SAVE Rivers, they have proven that these are all just empty promises and that their forest certification is a sham.” - Giovanni Reyes, chair of Global Environmental Facility’s Indigenous Peoples Advisory Group.
On September 18, 2023, the day the lawsuit was to be heard in court, Samling and SAVE Rivers announced that the dispute had been settled amicably. Local communities agreed that Samling would be allowed to continue operations in the Gerenai concession so long as it adequately consulted with local groups, and SAVE Rivers was allowed to keep the original articles online.
“Both parties to the suit agree that the welfare of the local community remains their priority. Samling welcomes constructive comments and feedback from the local community and will be glad to engage with all relevant stakeholders for the betterment of the local community.” - Joint statement of SAVE Rivers and Samling.
This is #67 in our series of Instagram infographics on resistance against corporate power.
Click here to see the full post on Instagram.
📸 The Borneo Project