Thursday, February 24, 2011

The battle for Sarawak begins: Angels and Devils show hand

The battle for Sarawak begins: Angels and Devils show hand
Written by  Mariam Mokhtar, 
Sarawak Chief Minister (CM) Taib Mahmud is the most depised man in Sarawak. He is Malaysia’s longest serving Chief Minister and just like ex-president Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, ruled for 30 years. On 11 February 2011, the Egyptians celebrated as Mubarak finally yielded to people power.
For the people of Sarawak, their time will come. It is just a question of when.
For decades, Taib ruled Sarawak with an iron fist. He crushed the people’s spirit with one hand and grabbed what was rightfully theirs, with the other. He had no desire to listen to the people and he destroyed those who opposed him. He used the police to do his dirty work and it is alleged that paid thugs would do the rest.

What he could not obtain easily, he simply took, by force if necessary. He grew rich at the expense of the Sarawakian. His treated his people like dogs, but happily cultivated the friendship of those in the west – the rich and famous, and those in power.
But the tide is turning. If Taib thought he could silence the people, then he is wrong. Everyday, there is an expose about his and his family’s personal wealth being splashed in the news. The foreigners he called ‘friends’ are slowly distancing themselves from him.
The Sarawak people are fighting back and they are bringing the fight into their homes. They’re not doing it with parangs or blowpipes. Their weapon is more potent. It is with incisive arguments and sharp critiques.
These are the voices of the ordinary man in the street or the rainforest, which are carried over the airwaves and into Sarawak households. This is the voice of Radio Free Sarawak (RFS). Thus far, Taib has not been able to stop the RFS from operating.
Taib has tried and Malaysia’s Special Branch personnel have been seen shadowing the main voice of RFS and other Malaysians at events that have been held in London, when these highlight the abuses of the Sarawak and Malaysian governments.
On 22 February, the two faces behind RFS came out of hiding. They are an unlikely duo – an Englishwoman and an Iban from Sarawak. She is Clare Rewcastle Brown – the sister-in-law of former British Prime minister Gordon Brown; he is the main voice of RFS – Papa Orang Utan aka Peter John Jaban.
Claire was born in Sarawak when it was still under British rule. She used to accompany her mother who was a mid-wife and whose work would take her into the interior. Jaban was an election monitor working in Taib’s state-controlled radio but was sacked for allowing callers to criticise Taib.
Claire said that they decided to reveal their identities because of death threats posted to the Sarawak Report website which is run by Clare. Sarawak Report is an anomymous blog which gets 18,000 hits per day. Both the Sarawak Report and RFS expose the excesses of Taib, his family and those in his inner circle.
According to Claire, Taib is responsible for “the outrageous deforestation which has seen 95% of the Sarawak’s rainforest cut down and replaced by logging and palm oil plantations which have enriched Taib and his family.”
Another reason for going public is the mysterious death of Sarawak Report’s main whistleblower, the American Ross Boyert who once worked for Taib. Boyert was found dead in a Los Angeles hotel room with a plastic bag around his head.
Clare said, “The inquest (into Boyert’s death) is still pending but there was a sense that Peter and I could be in danger. Rather than hide, we’ve decided to come out fighting.”
For both Clare and Peter, the important thing was to “give the 2.5 million oppressed people of Sarawak a choice”.
“The leader of the opposition party, a charismatic human rights lawyer called Baru Bian, inspires hope of real change in the upcoming election, but scandalously only one-third of the electorate are registered to vote and the corrupt Malaysian government turn a blind eye because Taib always delivers them Sarawak, their richest state.”
In 2008, Clare went to Sarawak to report on a by-election and secretly filmed companies clearing rainforests for oil palm. That was when she was introduced to Jaban and invited him to London to be the voice of RFS. Sadly, for as long as Taib is in power, Jaban is unable to return home.
He said, “I miss my four children, I miss my home.”
Wiping the tears from his face, he said, “I am prepared to die for this cause.”
What asked about their chances of success, Clare said, “People say our man hasn’t got a prayer in the election and that Taib will intimideate voters as he always does but I think our reports are having a huge effect and that there’s a groundswell for change.”
Malaysians will agree with Clare’s sentiments, “You’ve got to take heart from what is happening in the middle-east to rulers who seemed equally immovable until just a few weeks ago.”
(Main source: London Evening Standard)

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