The team at Radio Free Sarawak have still to receive any news of their presenter Peter John Jaban, who went off the radar yesterday, shortly after arriving in Miri.
He had texted and telephoned from the airport in Kota Kinabalu that he had been detained by the authorities while boarding a morning flight to Sarawak. He later got in touch again to say that he had been escorted on to the plane and warned that he would be questioned by Special Branch on arrival in Miri.
Peter’s phone has not yet been switched back on. However, he arrived safely in Miri, where he was met by the lawyer Alan Ling and local PKR Branch Chairman, Dr Michael Teo, who came to make sure that he was not unjustly detained.
In the end he was not stopped by the authorities at the airport and Peter left in a car with Dr Teo towards Miri.
It was during this journey that confusion ensued, as a vehicle then flagged down the car and three men beckoned for Peter to get out, according to Dr Teo. Peter went to the car and then left with the men, leaving some of his things behind but still carrying his back pack.
Dr Teo was taken by complete surprise and was left bewildered and concerned. At first it was feared that Peter may have been arrested after all, however the police authorities have flatly denied this and say that the DJ is not in detention.
Colleagues are now looking to the possibility therefore, that Peter knew the men and recognised the car. Given his fear of arrest, he may have taken the opportunity to jump into the unidentified vehicle and make his escape before any further moves were taken to detain him.
If this is the case, it will not be the first time that Peter, known as Papa Orang Utan to listeners of the Iban radio station, Radio Free Sarawak, has taken drastic measures to avoid the police since he has started working on the pro-democracy project, which broadcasts for two hours every day on SW15420 kHz.
On a previous occasion some months back police came back to question him, subsequent to an ID card check in a village in the interior.
However, Peter says he was rescued by a crowd of local people who gathered round, enabling him to jump on the back of a motorbike which drove him away!
Peter has often told friends that he is fearful of being hurt by interrogators and even more fearful of being caught by gangsters, who are widely feared as an unofficial arm of powers that be in Sarawak.
Journalists who had been sent to the airport to cover Papa Orang Utan’s arrival in Miri confirmed that the DJ looked extremely frightened. One who briefly spoke to him confirmed to Radio Free Sarawak today that he had been anticipating arrest at the airport after his detention by the authorities in KK.
Peter certainly knows that he is vulnerable to detention by the authorities. He is on an immigration black list and is wanted for interrogation by police and it was perhaps surprising that he decided to risk the interstate flight, where he had to present his ID card.
However, he has been unwell and had taken leave from the Radio Station and he may have wanted to pass through Sarawak to enjoy Gawai with friends or family. The flight ticket had been offered as a gift, but on reflection it had been decided to be unwise. Friends thought he was travelling by another route.
Many threats have been made against Radio Free Sarawak, which has clearly started to present itself as a nuisance to the BN politicians in the state, who are used to controlling all media outlets. The station is openly critical of corruption and is one of the few platforms that challenges the 30 year regime of Taib Mahmud on a number of issues.
The station has also worked successfully to educate local communities about some of the key issues around native land rights. It is credited with helping to create an increasing awareness and resistance to moves by the state government to remove customary lands from communities, in return for registration under the current ‘perimeter survey’ drive.
The station is also considered to be a platform for opposition politicians, who receive nothing but criticism in the licensed media, which is all either owned or controlled by the family of Chief MinisterTaib Mahmud.
As a result, the project has received several public attacks from BN figures, suggesting that it is responsible for serious crimes that could result in the severe penalties.
Last year the Home Minister Hishamuddin Hussein announced he would “leave no stone unturned” to discover crimes against the radio station:
”This is not about politics. This is about spreading malicious lies, the issue of unity and harmony among the races”, he said.
More recently Sibuti MP Ahmad Lai Bujang likened Radio Free Sarawak to a virus which must be avoided by the people:
“This is because the radio is meant to mislead its listeners by disseminating false information and spreading malicious lies that could jeopardise racial unity and harmony”, he said
Such words imply an accusation of ‘sedition’, a serious crime that carries a punishment of years of imprisonment.
Radio Free Sarawak has also been condemned for “poisoning minds of the Dayak” by BN representative quoted in a recent newspaper.
Again last month the Nature Resource and Environment Minister Dato Sri Douglas Uggah again called Radio Free Sarawak poison. Likewise the Deputy Information, Communications and Culture Minister, Joseph Salang Gandum announced, in reply to a parliamentary question:
”We know that several Sarawakians are involved in the broadcast and are liable to legal action”
And, the BN Assemblyman, the wealthy young Snowdon Lawan, son of a key crony of Taib himself, also spoke out a few days ago saying the state government should monitor activities by Radio Free Sarawak, because it was a pro opposition independent radio station “known to manipulate facts for the opposition’s political mileage in the upcoming general election”.
For this reason the broadcasters and journalists involved in the project have reason to be fearful that the apparatus of the State will be brought to bear to involve them in prosecutions and convictions. Today fellow presenter Christina Suntai said “all we want to know is that Peter is safe. And we want him back with us here doing good work on Radio Free Sarawak”.