Ad hoc committee condemns Abdul Karim remarks over flying old state flag

A file photo of the arrest of Rosli Dhoby following his stabbing of the British Colonial Governor Duncan Stewart on Dec 4, 1949.

KUCHING, Sept 9: An ad hoc ‘Committee to Defend the Old Sarawak Flag’ (CDOSF) has strongly objected to the factually inaccurate comments made by Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Datuk Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah over the flying of the old Sarawak flag.

The CDOSF, led by Sarawak Association of Peoples’ Aspirations (Sapa) and endorsed by a number of local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and individuals, considered the remarks as insensitive and could offend a large number of Sarawakians who have strong Sarawak patriotism.

Sapa president Dominique Ng stressed that the reviving of the old state flag was not in any way talking about bringing back the old colonial days but to end all lingering vestiges of 74 years of colonial times left by the United Kingdom government’s unfinished decolonisation of Sarawak.

“The flag symbolises Sarawak sovereignty, nationalism and anti-colonialism. It is to be seen in context of the 1946 anti-cession struggle. The flag symbolises the people’s aspirations for real self-determination and their strong anti-colonial spirit which is linked to the last 74 years of external and internal colonial times, particularly the beginning of the 1946 Sarawak anti-colonial struggle.

“It was under this flag that our people rallied to defend Sarawak independence against British annexation of their country led by the anti-cession movement and foreign domination,” he said in a statement today.

The CDOSF was condemning Abdul Karim’s remarks made on Sept 2, saying Sarawakians who displayed the pre-1973 official Sarawak flag bearing the crown as unpatriotic and alleged that the flag flyers believed they were still living in colonial times.

Ng pointed out that this was the same version of the flag which the Council Negeri officially adopted in 1963 as the state flag and flown by the Sarawak state government from 1963 to 1973.

“There is nothing more patriotic than to express love and cherish one’s country whether by displaying its embles or singing its songs.

“It is unpatriotic for any Sarawakian to distort the facts of Sarawak history by mocking the people’s loyalty and patriotism by seeking to replace this with a foreign flag and loyalty to a foreign country. This is part of an ongoing process of disinformation and fabrication of ‘Malaysian history’ to justify Malaysia that must be rejected,” he asserted.

He emphasised that the iconic Sarawak state flag, with red and black bands and a crown in the centre against a gold background, was a version of the state flag flown from 1870 to 1941 and legally recognised by Sarawak law defined in Section 2 under The Sarawak State Anthem And Emblems Ordinance 2002.

“Section 6 of the Ordinance imposes certain restrictions on the use of emblem but does not prohibit the flying of Sarawak historic flags or the playing of music for 1963-1973 State Anthem or the anthem of independent Sarawak,” he highlighted.

Ng emphasised that Abdul Karim must realise that his remarks would implicate that all those associated with the flag (or its variations) including the Sarawak government of 1963 to 1973 and all its members and supporters were ‘unpatriotic’.

“It also implies that all the people especially the Malay community, which was in the forefront and rallied under the original old flag in the anti-cession movement to defend Sarawak independence and oppose British annexation of Sarawak from 1946 to 1950 were ‘unpatriotic’.

“The opposition to British annexation sadly ended with the execution of a patriot Rosli Dhoby and three accused co-conspirators for the assassination of the second British colonial governor Duncan Stewart in 1949. Does it mean they were also unpatriotic?,” he asked.

The accusation of being ‘unpatriotic’, he continued, caught the thousands of Sarawakians who turned out in many rallies under the same flag since 2013 not to mention that this was tacitly supported by the late Chief Minister Pehin Sri Adenan Satem who had acknowledged Sarawak’s history and emblems.

“It was CM Adenan Satem who had initiated and caused the date July 22 to be officially recognised by the DUN as ‘Sarawak independence Day’ (albeit symbolically) and gazetted as a ‘public holiday’.

“It is therefore legitimate for Sarawakians to show their patriotism by flying the old state flag associated with this day and to play music and sing the state anthem which was officially recognised as the state flag from 1963 to 1973.

“This date has been officially commemorated for many years. According to the Minister’s logic, it means every one involved in any celebration of ‘Sarawak Independence Day’ since, including government members would be ‘unpatriotic’,” he said.

On Abdul Karim’s call for all Sarawakians to accept Aug 31 as the symbolic independence day of Malaysia, Ng found the suggestion inappropriate as Sarawak was never part of Malaya in 1957.

“It raises the issue of why the British government did not restore Sarawak Independence as pormised but handed it to Malaya and why Sarawakians should accept another foreign rule.

“Sarawak has its own distinct and unique history as an independent state from 1841 to 1941 which was recognised as such by the USA in 1853 and Britain in 1863. This is what Sarawakians want to acknowledge, celebrate and aspire for.

“To insist that Sarawak is a part of Malaya in 1957 is not far off from attempting to make Sarawak a colony of Malaya. Many believe it is still a colony despite British ‘decolonisation’ and Tunku Abdul Rahman’s claim in 1962 that ‘Malaysia’ was formed ‘to free the Borneo colonies from colonial rule’,” he argued.

The date 31 August, he continued, never became the intended Malaysia Day date as it had to be postponed owing to the UN assessment of the people’s wishes which was being carried out at the time under the Manila Accord signed by the Malayan government with Indonesia and the Philippines on July 31, 1963.

Further, he said that Abdul Karim seemed to disregard the fact that Malaysia did not exist in 1957 nor was it ‘colonised’ in 1963 as it was Malaya that attained statehood and independence on Aug 31, 1957.

“It is therefore factually incorrect to claim there is a ‘Malaysia Independence Day’ as the federation of Malaysia was not decolonised but was set up in 1963.

“This re-writing of history is most un-Sarawakian as it is to obscure Sarawak’s real history in which the flag is the link to its past as an independent state.

“The fabrication of a Malayan rooted history has been going on for many decades with implanting of the Malayan race religion supremacist history ideology and politics that is currently played out in Malaya and upheld by the GPS (Gabungan Parti Sarawak) party and its predecessors since 1963,” he claimed.

The ad hoc Committee, he said, considered that Abdul Karim’s statement was politically motivated to intimidate Sarawakians from freely expressing their aspirations for self-determination and an attempt to expunge all state symbols and flags predating 1973 as part of Sarawak history.

“The minister’s proposed ‘symbolic independence’ day also raises the question why this day should be celebrated at all, as the transfer is considered to be illegitimate.

“The Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63) was void from the beginning as it was made in breach treaty making rules that sovereign states could not make binding agreements with colonies as they did not have capacity to enter into such agreements (ICJ decision in the Chagos Islands Case 2019).

“This illegality was reinforced by the fact that Malaysia was constituted under emergency conditions where the people were not free to express their wishes on federation or independence in a referendum,” he pointed out.

Emphasising the words of Tunku Abdul Rahman that the principal object for forming Malaysia was to ‘free the Borneo territories from colonial rule’ and ‘develop’ Sarawak and Sabah, Ng however pointed out that the promise of ‘development and security’ in Malaysia remained an unfulfilled promise while Sarawak’s oil and gas wealth have been expropriated to develop Malayan states at the expense of Sarawak since 1976.

The ad hoc Committee therefore requested Abdul Karim to explain his remarks as he may not realise that he has offended a large number of Sarawakians who have strong Sarawak patriotism.

“If he is unable to give a rational explanation then he should apologise for his offensive remarks,” he added.

The statement was endorsed by Parti Bumi Kenyalang (PBK), Dayak Rights Action Force (Draf), Sabah Sarawak Rights Australia New Zealand (SSRANZ), Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak Baru (PBDSB), Persatuan Pewaris Kedayan Jati Mierek Padang Kerbau Miri, Rumpun Bangsa Dayak (RBD) Sarawak, Perias, NCR Defence Committee Kota Samarahan, lawyer and former MP Patrick Anek, Movement for Change Sarawak and Terabai Kenyalang Heritage Association of Sarawak (TKHAS). —DayakDaily

A file photo of people staging protest in Kuching