By Shannon Teoh
Clare Rewcastle Brown, who operates radio station Radio Free Sarawak and blog Sarawak Report from Covent Garden in London, told The Malaysian Insider that “every person I have spoken to is scared of the fact that the BN government will know how they vote.”
But she said that even though voters “face naked threats that BN will withdraw vital services from longhouses that vote against them,” the tide of opinion can subtly change and “wash away the foundations of power without anybody quite realising.”
“The collapse of the Iron Curtain and Berlin Wall took the world by surprise and almost happened overnight,” she said, recalling her experience as a reporter with Sky TV when the wall fell in 1989.
“I remember the shock of it all, as the grip of communist power had seemed so immovable for so long,” said the 51-year-old investigative journalist who began her career with the BBC World Service in 1983.
The Berlin Wall was the physical manifestation of the Iron Curtain, a symbolic partition between the communist and democratic halves of Europe until it fell in 1989, marking the end of the Cold War era and then erosion of communism globally.
Rewcastle-Brown made the comparison between the Iron Curtain and Sarawak in an interview with The Malaysian Insider today.
In the interview, she said that Radio Free Sarawak, which broadcasts to the state over short wave, a long range band of frequencies, has fed what “seems to be such a hunger for news in the jungles of Sarawak ... that they seem to be back tuning in to these old fashioned radios.”
The two media that she publicly took responsibility for on Wednesday, have repeatedly accused Abdul Taib and his administration of corruption and illegitimate political practices.
However, these allegations have also been made by others before and have not prevented the 74-year-old chief minister from holding power for 30 years.
Rewcastle Brown, who was born and raised in Sarawak until the age of eight, added that the opposition parties in the state have also realised that they need to unite and “are now putting normal political bickering and personal ambitions aside.”
Although Pakatan Rakyat (PR) parties had ensured straight fights across the peninsular in the 2008 general election, Sarawak saw 15 state seats that were contested by more than two candidates in the 2006 state polls.
However, with state polls expected in April and the assembly’s mandate expiring in July, DAP, PKR, PAS and also the Sarawak Nasional Party (SNAP) have begun negotiations over seat allocations in a bid to ensure one-on-one battles with BN.
I’m doing it for the people and the jungle, says British anti-Taib reporter
KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 26 — Radio Free Sarawak and the Sarawak Report have been critical of Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud’s state government but there is no political agenda except to save the tribal people and the “priceless” forests of the state, their founder said today.
Clare Rewcastle Brown responded today to accusations of a malicious agenda to bring down the Barisan Nasional (BN) government there, insisting that “we are not motivated by malice, only by concern for the people of Sarawak and the priceless Borneo jungle that has been destroyed by the greed of just a few people.”
The sister-in-law of former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who was born in Sarawak where she lived until age eight, said that she has promised many native people that she will do her best to highlight their plight.
“The Borneo Rainforest is one of the most rare and precious areas of our planet and it would be a worthwhile use of my time to do what I can to join the struggle to save it for our future,” she said in an interview with The Malaysian Insider.
After publicly taking responsibility for the two media on Wednesday, she was accused by Sarawak BN backbenchers chief Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah of being “malicious and dangerous.”
“They have campaigned not only against the Chief Minister but also the nation ... inciting one race to go against another,” Abdul Taib’s political secretary was reported to have said.
But Rewcastle Brown, who operates the radio station and blog out of a flat in Covent Garden, London, said that her financiers and herself “think it is worth doing something to try and help those who are oppressed and to keep our planet beautiful for future generations.”
“This all may be hard to understand for people who are focused only on making money for themselves,” she said of Abdul Karim, adding that his threat of bringing them to book only showed that BN was worried.
“If Abdul Karim thinks we are dangerous, then he means he thinks we are dangerous to the continuing domination of his BN government over Sarawak and we thank him for letting us know he is so worried,” she said.
The 51-year-old journalist, who first worked for the BBC World Service in 1983, added that there are many others who also care about the rainforests and the rights of tribal people and it has resulted in a “wonderful wave of new donations via my website” for her campaign.
Rewcastle Brown has been highly critical of Abdul Taib, accusing him of widespread corruption and illegitimate political practices.
However, others have also made these allegations before but the 74-year-old chief minister has remained in power for 30 years.
He must call a state election by July this year and is widely expected to dissolve the state assembly by April.
S'wak Report founder: Not my job to oust Taib
A British journalist who runs an website and online radio critical of Sarawak Chief Minister Taib Abdul Mahmud says that her task is not to oust the long-time leader.
“I do not see it as my job to bring down Taib. That is for the Sarawakian people to decide,” said Clare Rewcastle Brown in an email interview with Malaysiakini.
Rewcastle Brown runs the fiercely anti-Taib website Sarawak Report which has exposed the chief minister's alleged global business empire and corrupt activities.
She is also responsible for underground radio station Radio Free Sarawak, which began broadcasting in November last year on shortwave.
“I just want to make sure that they receive all the information about what has been happening to their resources and to their wealth, so that they can make an informed choice,” said Rewcastle Brown, who is sister-in-law of former British prime minister Gordon Brown.
'Evidence easily available'
She argues that she is providing a "vital service from a safe distance" because Sarawakians right to a free press was being denied by the use of the Internal Security Act (ISA) and abuse of power.
"It is up to Sarawakians how they wish to spread the news (we provide),” she said.
The former BBC journalist, who began her career in 1983, also adds that her work relies only on material that can be proven and she would readily hand over evidence to the Malaysian authorities.
“Most of it, as we have demonstrated, is a matter of public record. This is why it has been difficult to disprove. We have heard nothing back from Taib Mahmud, despite several invitations to reply to our accusations.
“We would be only too delighted to hand over all this evidence to the Malaysian police and Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission should they show the slightest interest. Most of it they could have accessed themselves anyway without much trouble,” she said.
The brains behind Sarawak Report and Radio Free Sarawak were revealed on Wednesday. They decided to go public following several death threats.
Excerpts of the email interview, edited for clarity, follows:
Malaysiakini: In the London Evening Standard report, you mentioned that Sawarak Report had received death threats. Tell us more. Were they from Taib's men? Do you take this seriously? Have you reported this to the authorities?
Rewcastle Brown: We have received unpleasant emails, but they were anonymous so we are making no accusations about who sent them. However, this was one reason why we decided to come out into the open.
We have lodged a report to the UK police, who are monitoring the situation. We think our safety is less threatened in the UK that it would be if we went to Malaysia.
Sarawak Report has been reporting Taib's alleged corrupt activities and his alleged global business empire. Do you have hard evidence and witnesses to back your claims? Are you prepared to hand them to Malaysian or international authorities?
We have only published what we can prove and we have laid out our sources and evidence in Sarawak Report. Most of it, as we have demonstrated, is a matter of public record. This is why it has been difficult to disprove.
We have heard nothing back from Taib Mahmud, despite several invitations to reply to our accusations. We would be only too delighted to hand over all this evidence to the Malaysian police and Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) should they show the slightest interest.
Most of it they could have accessed themselves anyway without much trouble!
Are you prepared if Taib and his alleged business associates take legal action against you?
It would seem you are building up momentum to oust Taib. But then again, most in Sarawak has no access to the Internet. Have you found ways to help spread your reports in Sarawak?
I do not see it as my job to bring down Taib. That is for the Sarawakian people to decide about. I just want to make sure that they receive all the information about what has been happening to their resources and to their wealth, so that they can make an informed choice.
This is their right and BN have corruptly denied them that right by suppressing the freedom of the media and persecuting people who speak out or hold the government to account.
Because of the abuse of the ISA law and the abuse of power generally, no journalist or opposition person who speaks out about the corruption in Sarawak is safe from persecution.
It is for this reason that I am providing this one vital service from the safety of a distant country, where the role of objective journalism is still respected and protected. It is up to Sarawakians how they wish to spread the news.
Your critics have dubbed your work as blatant Western meddling in Asian countries. They accuse you of being funded by “foreign agents” with vested interests. How do you respond to this?
Well they have to say something! BN has spent millions of ringgit hiring New York, Maddison Avenue PR (public relations) people to plug their own message in the Malaysian media, so why are they so upset by my shoestring, voluntary operation to redress some of that balance?
My agenda is the agenda of the people of Sarawak, whose jungle and resources have been greedily taken leaving them destitute. So many of the people I have met there have asked me for whatever help I can give them in exposing their terrible problems and now they are warmly thanking me.
This is my agenda and I will stop the moment people from Sarawak no longer want or need my help.
You left Sarawak for the UK when you were eight years old. Have you tried to go back? If yes, did you face any problems?
Yes, I have come back a number of times in recent years, which is how I came to learn of the terrible things that have happened to Sarawak's people and environment.
I was appalled at the dismissive view of the chief minister towards his people when I asked him at a press conference in 2005 whether he thought the interior tribes had anything of value to offer to the rest of the world.
His reply? "Ha ha, yes, we have put all that stuff into a museum somewhere!"
I realised that this arrogant and ignorant attitude was behind nearly all of the problems facing the poor people of Sarawak today. On recent visits to Malaysia, it has been made clear that I am no longer welcome for being outspoken on these issues.
Officials have informed me I am on a 'blacklist' and will be watched whenever I enter the country. I am now always held up at immigration and my mobile phone is then always blocked.
Taken from Malaysiakini.