Ex-British PM throws weight behind anti-Taib campaign

By Shannon Teoh, The Malaysian Insider

KUALA LUMPUR, March 11 — Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has voiced his support for his sister-in-law’s crusade against what she deems exploitation of Sarawak’s people and forests by Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud.

Writing in The Independent newspaper in Britain yesterday, Brown described the deforestation of Sarawak as “probably the biggest environmental crime of our times.”

Clare Rewcastle-Brown, who took responsibility for Radio Free Sarawak and the Sarawak Report blog two weeks ago, has been highly critical of Taib’s 30-year-old administration, accusing it of widespread corruption and illegal political practices.

She began operations of the two media outlets anonymously last year, before choosing to reveal herself before state elections expected to be called next month.

The state opposition holds eight out of 71 seats in the state assembly and hopes to make gains with help from Rewcastle-Brown, a reporter since 1983.

Brown, who led the UK Labour party to an election defeat in 2010, wrote that Rewcastle-Brown did not get involved in Sarawak hunting for misdeeds, but “simply a desire as a reporter to apply normal UK-style investigative journalism to events in Malaysia.”

“She was busy raising a family — and was not hunting for the next big exposé. But, as she researched into the community where she had been brought up, she stumbled upon what is probably the biggest environmental crime of our times.

“But since her first forays into what has happened to the forests she has become persona non grata in Malaysia. She is now harassed whenever she visits the country. She has been told she is on a blacklist and will be watched. She has received death threats,” he wrote in the-British daily.

The home ministry is also investigating Radio Free Sarawak after the Youth wing of Taib’s Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu lodged a police report claiming that the station has been operating illegally and spreading lies.

But Brown wrote yesterday that Rewcastle-Brown “is exposing through her local informants that over this period, particularly during the 1980s, Malaysia’s once vast pristine jungle has been stripped bare and enormous areas have been planted with oil palm in an environmental nightmare that shows no sign of slowing.”