A group of Atayal Aborigines from Smangus Village in Hsinchu County yesterday said they would appeal a Taiwan High Court ruling that sentenced members of their tribe to prison terms for removing a fallen tree in their village forest.
"We did not steal anything. We live there and of course we have the right to handle the environment were we live," said Icyeh Sulung, head of Smangus Village, in front of the court yesterday.
"We will appeal this case to the Supreme Court," he said.
The high court sentenced three men from the village to three months in jail on charges of theft for removing a fallen tree on Sept. 1, 2005, from a forest. The men said they removed the tree because it was blocking the road after Typhoon Talim blew it down.
The three villagers moved the tree to the side of the road after cutting it free from its roots. The Forest Bureau then removed the tree, leaving only the stump.
The three villagers removed the stump and roots and took it home, intending to make the root into a piece of commemorative art.
The high court judges said they respected the fact that the tree was located inside the village, but added that the forest belongs to the bureau and not the villagers.
Removing the remaining part of the tree was illegal because it belonged to the government, the court said.
In addition to three months in prison for each of the three men, the court also ruled that each must pay a fine of NT$79,000.
However, the court granted the men a two-year suspension on their prison terms, during which they must pay the fines.
Separately, Council of Indigenous Peoples Minister Icyang Parod said he was "dissatisfied and disappointed" with the verdict.
He said, however, that although the council acknowledged the Smangus community's claim that the tree was within their traditional domain, there was no legislation granting them the right to the trees within that area.
"We are encouraging them to appeal," Icyang said, adding that the council could provide legal assistance.
Additional reporting by Loa Iok-sin
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