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Dr Jeffrey says he had long forgiven Tun Dr Mahathir

Sabah Star president Datuk Seri Jeffrey Kitingan still believes his detention in 1991 was to silence him, as he was fighting for the MA63 agreement.

The Tambunan assemblyman was detained for 26 months under the ISA in 1991, accused of plotting to secede Sabah from Malaysia.

KOTA KINABALU – Thirty-three years have passed since Datuk Seri Jeffrey Kitingan’s detention under the Internal Security Act (ISA) in 1991, and he still maintains that his arrest was politically motivated. 

On May 13, 1991, Jeffrey was detained without trial under the ISA by the then Barisan Nasional (BN) government, led by then prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

The 76-year-old – who was 43 at the time – was detained for 26 months. 

Back then, newspapers reported that his arrest was made on the suspicion of plotting to secede Sabah from the Federation of Malaysia. 

However, there were claims that it was a political move as Jeffrey was one of the leaders of Parti Bersatu Sabah at the time. 

Though he still remembered that Dr Mahathir said to him: “I am sorry about the detention, Jeffrey, I know it is cruel,” Jeffrey said he had long forgiven Dr Mahathir and had let go of his grudges against the latter.

“I have no problem with Mahathir. I was asked if I hated him, and I said no, I don’t hate him. I forgive him. I don’t hold any grudges because if you tie yourself to the past, you will never move forward, and that is how I look at people.

“Even if they do bad things to me, I don’t take revenge, hold grudges, and I let go. I move on.

“Between me and him (Dr Mahathir), when he said don’t teach the people what they don’t know (about Sabah rights), I ended up teaching the people.

“I am happy Mahathir still lives to see the end of the fight, and when he became the prime minister the second time, he set up a special committee to discuss the Malaysia Agreement 1963.

“Although people call me crazy, I still continued fighting for Sabah,” he said.

Meanwhile, Jeffrey said there was never a plot for Sabah to secede from Malaysia as claimed, both by him and the Sabah government at the time. 

“No, there was never a plot. The Sabah government did not know anything and was not involved in anything. There was no plot. We just showed KL (federal government) that we were dissatisfied. 

“When we do that, of course, the federal government does not like it. They did not listen to us and they treated us like a colony. They never wanted to respect the Federal Constitution. 

“No one dared (to raise issues regarding Sabah’s rights and the federal government’s ill-treatment of Sabah) at the time. So, when I started asking why they don’t respect the 20-point agreement, they started looking at me like a traitor,” he said during a forum “Dr Jeffrey Kitingan’s 33rd ISA detention anniversary,” hosted by Sabah Way Forward and Kupikupifm Sabah, on Monday.

Jeffrey, who is currently the Sabah Star president and Tambunan assemblyman, said that he still believes his detention was to silence him, as he was starting to fight for the 20-point agreement. 

This agreement is a list of demands Sabah (then North Borneo) negotiated as terms before it officially joined the formation of Malaysia. 

He said the people of Sabah do not know about the agreement, and the federal government wished that it would stay that way. Jeffrey teared up when he recalled his experience during his 26 months of ISA detention, saying that he thought he had died. 

A crowd of supporters greet Jeffrey on January 20, 1994, at the Kota Kinabalu International Airport, upon his release from detention.

Looking back on his arrest

On that day of his arrest, Jeffrey went to the Karamunsing police station for a meeting with the Kota Kinabalu police chief. 

However, he was arrested on the spot and sent to the Kepayan detention centre before he was flown to Kuala Lumpur, escorted by Special Branch officers.

Upon reaching Kuala Lumpur, he was blindfolded and eventually placed in a cell where there was no way of telling if it was night or day. He was deprived of rest, sleep, food, and water. 

After two months of solitary confinement, Jeffrey was sent to the Kamunting Detention Camp and spent another two and a half years in detention without trial. 

He said he saw other inmates go mad, hitting their heads against the wall. 

Despite what he had gone through, Jeffrey said he never regretted his actions that had led to his arrest. 

“I never regretted anything. I was prepared to die for my country. And I did die. I died (even though) I was alive. 

“They took away my freedom. They took me from my family. Everything from me. But I know I was right. I was glad that I could do something for Sabah. The future generation will take this kind of forward until we achieve our freedom,” he said.

To this date, Jeffrey still believes his detention raised issues about Sabah’s rights to the point that the people of Sabah can freely fight for their rights now. 

However, he said he is still unsatisfied and unhappy with the current situation, as Sabah has yet to solve the issue about 40% revenue sharing, which has not been complied with in the past 60 years. 

“I am still not happy… until we get back our autonomy, oil, and revenue, and become part of the federal constitution. 

“If you want Sabah to survive, give back our oil and gas. They (the federal government) have no right to take our oil and gas,” he said.

Editor: This article appeared in the Scoop.

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