By Mariam Mokhtar
Clare Rewcastle Brown, the founder of Radio Free Sarawak and the author of the Sarawak Report blog, has returned fire at Malaysian authorities who said her radio broadcasts were illegal and accused her to trying to stir up trouble in their country.
RFS and Sarawak Report are dedicated to exposing the alleged corruption of Sarawak Chief Minister Taib Mahmud and removing him from power. The fabulously wealthy Taib has ruled Sarawak with a fist of iron for four decades and is due to call for state-wide polls by July this year.
“This has been the favourite weapon that politicians of his ilk have tried to use to deliberately intimidate people who disagree with them politically or even people who want to exercise their right to vote for the opposition in the upcoming election,” Clare told Malaysia Chronicle.
She was referring to Sarawak BN Backbenchers Club chairman Abdul Karim Hamzah who called on the relevant agencies to act against the station because “RFS incited Sarawakians to go against the state government in the next state election and breed inter-racial hatred”.
“Hamzah is a lawyer, so he knows full well that criticising corruption and failures by his political party, BN, is not the same as ‘going against the government’,” Clare said.
“In his remarks he implies that it is somehow illegal to encourage people to vote for the opposition!! How can it be illegal – Isn’t that the whole point of a democracy? Or does Mr Hamzah admit that he is part of a dictatorship in all but name?”
Malaysia to block RFS broadcast
It might seen incredulous to some especially those used to a more advanced system of democracy, but Hamzah was not alone in calling for action against Clare and her team.
According to the Deputy Information Communication and Culture Minister Joseph Salang, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission should act against RFS as it was an illegal and unlicensed radio station.
“I have heard about its existence. I have also been made to understand it is based in Malacca and not in London as believed. If there are reports against it, the MCMC will investigate. If the contents contravene the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, it can block its broadcast,” Joseph had said.
But the deputy minister may have made another blunder. RFS is really based in London and just four months ago,Malaysia Chronicle along with other media was invited to a sneak preview of its operations room and introduced to its staff.
Clare also pointed out that Sarawak Report focussed on exposing corruption, not on adopting any political stance.
“Mr Hamzah also clearly implies in his remarks that it is somehow wrong or illegal to expose the wrong-doings of people in power. Does he therefore think it is the right thing to do to cover up corruption and wrong-doing by people in power and that people who refuse are ‘going against the state?” she asked.
“As a lawyer, he knows perfectly well that people should be allowed to speak up against corruption. He just wants to keep BN’s position of power so that he and his friends can keep on abusing it to make even more money out of the people of Sarawak.”
“As he put it in a recent interview, he thinks it is ‘only fair’ that politicians like his boss Taib should be able to ‘take the opportunities’ that come their way in political office – in Sarawak Report we have been laying out just what those ‘opportunites’ are and how Taib and his cronies have profited.”
Hypocrisy of Malaysian authorities
Hamzah had also criticised her outspokeness and questioned her motives. Clare, a British citizen, was born in Sarawak. After a recent visit to the East Malaysian state, she had decided to take up the cudgels for the poor and downtrodden tribes that live in the state’s interior regions.
Environmentalists the world over have condemned Taib and the Malaysian government for allowing Sarawak’s unique rain forests to be logged without apparent control.
“It is strange that people would want to do things that are harmful to their own country. If anything, people with the right kind of mind will want to improve the situation in their own country and not destroy it,” Hamzah said.
Clare also denied that RFS had “stirred racial or religious hatred”.
“What we have shown is that there is a unity between all the tribes of Sarawak in how they have been swindled out of their lands and neglected and abused over the past years. From the Ibans in Serian, to the Melanau in Pulau Bruit to the Chinese in Sibu, Bidayuh in Bengoh, Penan in the Baram region and every other racial group including Malays, they have all suffered from the land grabs,” she said.
“We have also pointed out some cases of disunifying discrimination in education and jobs on the part of the government and we have pointed to hypocrisy where YBs say one thing about their religion to their constituents while doing another thing to advance themselves in the discrimatory system set up by BN.”
Not a whimper from Taib, MACC or Putrajaya
The 51-year old sister-in-law of former British premier Gordon Brown said that widespread corruption and illegitimate political practices reported Sarawak Report were a matter of public record.
Yet, neither she nor RFS had heard from Taib, despite issuing several invitations to him to reply to their accusations.
Clare also took to task the Malaysian police and the MACC who despite the accusations on her blog, have “not shown the slightest interest” to probe Taib for his alleged wrongdoing.
“Karim Hamzah should be careful of drawing further attention to the key failings of BN’s own management of the government by the nature of the accusations he makes,” she said. – MC