This is an open letter by Peter John Jaban, popularly known as Papa Orangutan, to clear the air over his disappearance in Miri 10 days ago.
By Peter John Jaban
One week after the recent debacle with the police in Miri, I am happy to be home, here in Sarawak. I’ve been resting after going to the ground and planning for the future.
I’ve decided that my future is here. I was born here and I intend to remain here. There is so much work to be done, especially with crucial elections just round the corner.
This is our chance is to bring about real change in Sarawak politics. My struggle for Sarawak will continue where it’s needed most.
The events of the last week have revealed many things. The first is just a reminder of how much I love this country, how much I love Sarawak.
As the Malay saying goes: ‘Hujan emas di negeri orang, hujan batu di negeri sendiri.’ I am a Sarawakian. I need to be here among my people to work effectively. I started Radio Free Sarawak and moved to London mainly because freedom of expression here in my own country is lacking – something that I am trying to change. But, I just couldn’t stay away.
Now, I feel that I can best continue my struggle for the future of Sarawak here. No matter what London offers, it has nothing to compare to my own ties that bind me to Sarawak, my ibu pertiwiku, as it is called in the Sarawak state anthem.
So, maybe you’ll see me driving around town in my Cadillac with my beautiful daughter at my side. I’ll even wave again at YB Abdul Karim Hamzah, Assistant Youth Development Minister, as he stares at me from his tiny classic car.
What else have I learnt from the last week? I have learnt that I am safer here than in any other country. In spite of all the stories from the government-controlled media trying to paint me black, I have learnt that, when I need help, the people of Sarawak are right there behind me.
There are so many great heroes here in this state, carrying on their good work and supporting my own; I feel proud to work with them and will continue to do so wherever they need me.
As for the police, those that I met in Kota Kinabalu were polite and courteous. I thank them. Last week’s drama was not my intention.
Sadly, in the past, certain members of our police force here have smeared the name of their colleagues by acting too hastily and too strongly towards people in their custody. Unfortunately, we live in times where even answering to someone’s fist in custody is viewed as normal and part of day to day business.
Straight from the orangutan’s mouth
Even now, reports of deaths in custody continue to come out in the independent media. I am ready to meet the police, should they wish, but on an even basis, with my representatives present – not when I am under their power to do with as they choose: to be placed under duress or to be mistreated or physically and verbally abused in any way.
That is why I left, to allow myself the opportunity to meet them on my own terms. After all, I am a citizen of Sarawak. I have committed no crime. I have not robbed or killed or cheated anyone. I want to return, to be free to live my life in the country that I love, and to continue my struggle for a better future for all of us here.
Finally, what of the events of last week? The time has come for the public to hear the story from the orangutan’s mouth.
As someone has said, I owe the public an explanation and this is it. After my stay in Kuching in May, I went to Sabah for a week. I took a flight, first from Kuching to Miri (no problem at all) and then from Miri to KK (again, no problem). It was only on my return flight to Miri that the problem surfaced.
As I queued for immigration, I was told that there was an issue and was called into the office.
I waited. My flight time was drawing near, so I questioned immigration, who informed me, very politely, that this was a police matter which had been reported in July 2011 and they were waiting for Special Branch to arrive.
Special Branch did arrive. They photocopied my documents and they took pictures of me from every angle, again very politely. Then, they informed me that I was being ‘referred’ to the Sarawak police and escorted me to the aircraft.
I understood this to mean that I would be met by police at Miri airport. As I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t taken away by the police without proper representation, I contacted my people to make certain that I was met at Miri by a few friendly faces.
On my arrival, I was surprised to find the airport full of people waiting for me. There were police, as I had expected, some were in uniform and some I took to be plainclothes officers – I know the look from my activist days.
There were reporters, all taking photos right in my face, and of course, my own representatives.
I was confused and feeling unwell. The lawyer Alan Ling, now the assemblyman for Piasau, and Dr Michael Teo, taking advantage of the fact that the police were still waiting for instructions, took me to the car and we drove off, heading to Dr Teo’s clinic.
Plotting the escape
On the way into Miri, there was an accident ahead and a queue of traffic behind it. We were stuck. Dr Teo was busy on the phone, his driver busy with the road. It was raining heavily.
As I sat, a car pulled up beside us on the fast lane. Two men got out – I recognized one of them from my flight – and told me that the police were chasing our car. So, on the spur of the moment, I decided to follow them.
There was no time to update Dr Teo who was otherwise engaged on the phone anyway and I’m sorry for that but I had to make my move. These three men were genuine Samaritans – they sought only to help me and I thank them for that. They then dropped me somewhere safe.
So, why did I not let anyone know where I was for three days? Well, it’s not that easy to do so when I was supposed to be avoiding detection. My own phone was not working because of the heavy rain.
I had to get out of Miri, which I did on the same day. I travelled on foot under the SESCO overhead lines and by hitchhiking. So, just let it be said that I didn’t sit around reading about myself online and worrying about who to tell first where I was.
Finally, another Good Samaritan gave me a new phone. It seemed foolish to register a phone in my own name. As soon as that happened, I contacted my colleagues at RFS as this was the only telephone number I could remember.
My thanks go out to them and all those who helped me – the good Samaritans, Dr Michael Teo, the lawyers Alan Ling and See Chee How. If any fingers are still being pointed at my supporters and friends who came to my aid in my time of need – I want this to stop now.
This is the only reason why I am making this statement at this time. In reality, I’d be quite happy for this whole event to pass into history.
As for claims in the press that I ‘staged’ the whole thing, I suggest those journalists verify my version of events with special branch in KK. As for claims that I did it for publicity, I can only say that it was not me that contacted the press – it was my representatives who felt that greater coverage would minimize the chances of improper conduct by the police.
As for those claims that I shouldn’t have run and that I should have waited for the police to simply arrest me, I would ask what you all would do, knowing that you are in danger? Would you sit in the car and wait for instructions or would you take action and save yourself? I chose action.
With regards the near future, I will continue to take action, fighting on the ground for the people of Sarawak.
I fly no flag but theirs, as I have always done. I know that Radio Free Sarawak will carry on, business as usual, spreading the message to where it is needed and, of course, I will give them every assistance in that.
I urge listeners to continue to tune in and listen to the real message. You might even hear me reporting from the interior. But from now on, I’m staying right here.