On Tuesday, Malaysian police issued warrants to raid the office of news broadcaster, Al Jazeera, and two other local TV stations including Astro and Unifitv. During the raid, police confiscated their computers for investigation regarding a documentary which covered the plight of undocumented migrant workers in the country, especially during the times of coronavirus.
Apparently the documentary, titled “Locked Up in Malaysia’s Lockdown,” enraged the government, in whose view its content was biased and violated law. The Malaysian government’s intolerant attitude towards the special reporting of its migrants can be gauged from the words of criminal investigation chief Huzir Mohamed. As part of the investigation, police interrogated seven Al Jazeera staff members, charging those involved of sedition, defamation and violating the Communications and Multimedia Act.
Huzir said, “No individual or entity will be spared from action if they have violated the law.”
He added that the order for raids were given out jointly by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission, who were also investigating the media stations. Besides media persons, the police also targeted the documentary filmmakers and arrested over 2,000 migrant workers from the areas covered in the documentary, which were put under tight virus lockdowns.
Malaysian government also detained a Bangladeshi man, revoked his work permit and would be sending him back too as he gave his interview to the documentary markers, criticising the government’s for caring the least about undocumented migrants, especially when the pandemic hit the country,
Al Jazeera criticised the raid as “an attack on press freedom as a whole” and urged Malaysian authorities to stop its criminal investigation. Giles Trendle, managing director of Al Jazeera English, said, “Conducting a raid on our office and seizing computers is a troubling escalation in the authorities’ crackdown on media freedom and shows the lengths they are prepared to take to try to intimidate journalists.”
“Al Jazeera stands by our journalists and we stand by our reporting. Our staff did their jobs and they’ve got nothing to answer for or apologize for. Journalism is not a crime,” he said.
Many rights group stood for Qatar-based broadcaster, and objected to the government’s investigation which appeared more like reprimanding the documentary creators for showing anti-government content. Malaysia is currently governed by a newly elected Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, who took power in March.
“The authorities’ relentless pursuit of Al Jazeera seems to be driven by a desire to punish journalists who aired Malaysia’s dirty laundry rather than a good faith application of the law,” said Matthew Bugher, head of the Asia program of British-based rights group ARTICLE 19.
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