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.”
“Deprived of their livelihoods, some of the world’s poorest people have been further impoverished by the deforestation,” he wrote, claiming that the state is being over-logged and losing a square mile of forest per day, one of the fastest rates of depletion in the world.
He added that only five per cent of the primary forest is left today, adding that they had been virginal in the 1960s.
Environmental watchdog Wetlands International also reported last month that Sarawak’s rapid expansion of oil palm plantations may result in its unique peat forests being wiped out by the end of the decade.
“The recent Sarawak Report exposes how pressures continue to force families to leave the forests and give up on their traditional livelihoods. These families are being pressed to accept ‘compensation’, often of only £80 (RM390), for land whose wood is worth millions,” Brown added.
He also called for international support to save Sarawak’s forests, saying that “if the world fails now we are not guilty simply of a sin of omission; we will be actively condoning the destruction of a nation’s future by people too greedy to see the trees for the wood.”