Al-Jazeera staffers leave the Bukit Aman police headquarters after being questioned by the Malaysian police over a documentary about the country's arrests of undocumented migrants, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on July 10, 2020. (AP Photo)

Malaysia investigates Al-Jazeera reporters over documentary on migrant arrests

Bangkok, July 13, 2020 – Malaysian authorities should cease investigating Al-Jazeera staffers and stop using legal threats to harass the media, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On July 10, Malaysian police interrogated six reporters and staff members of the Qatari broadcaster in relation to a July 3 documentary, “Locked Up in Malaysia’s Lockdown,” aired on the news program “101 East,” about the arrests of undocumented migrants, according to news reports.

Officials claimed the 25-minute report was inaccurate, misleading, and unfair, according to a report by Al-Jazeera.

National Police Chief Abdul Hamid Bador told reporters after the July 10 interrogations that the documentary contained elements that could be investigated for sedition, defamation, and violation of the Communications and Multimedia Act, and that the staffers were called in as “witnesses, not suspects” pertaining to that investigation, according to Reuters.

Abdul Hamid said that the attorney general’s office would decide on whether to take further action, according to Reuters. CPJ emailed that office for comment, but did not immediately receive any reply.

“Malaysian authorities should cease their witch hunt against Al-Jazeera and stop using legal threats to harass their reporters and staff members,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s government should stop treating journalists as criminals and allow the press to report on issues of public interest without fear of reprisal.”

In a July 9 statement, Al-Jazeera said it “stands by the professionalism, quality and impartiality” of the report and called on authorities to “desist from treating its journalists as criminals.”

The statement also said its staff had been “targeted by sustained online abuse, including death threats and disclosure of their personal details over social media.”

Hisyam The Poh Teik, the Al-Jazeera staffers’ lawyer, told reporters that they were cooperating with the police investigation and that they had sought government comment for the report but were denied.

In May, Malaysian authorities questioned South China Morning Post reporter Tashny Sukumaran for her reporting on a crackdown on migrants during the country’s COVID-19 lockdown, according to reports.

The attorney general’s office also recently filed contempt of court proceedings against the online news portal Malaysiakini and its editor Steven Gan for comments posted to the website by readers that were perceived as critical of the judiciary, as CPJ documented at the time.

Gan’s criminal trial began today, according to reports.