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.