Al-Jazeera staff leave Bukit Aman police headquarters after being questioned by the Malaysian police in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia July 10, 2020. Police raided the Al-Jazeera office in Kuala Lumpur. (Reuters/Lim Huey Teng)

Malaysian police raid Al-Jazeera’s office, seize computers in escalating legal harassment

Bangkok, August 4, 2020 – Malaysian police raided Al-Jazeera’s Kuala Lumpur office and seized two computers in an ongoing criminal probe into the global broadcaster’s July 3 report on the government’s treatment of undocumented migrant workers during the COVID-19 crisis, news reports said.

Six of Al-Jazeera’s Malaysia-based reporters and staff members are being investigated on criminal charges including sedition, defamation, and violation of the country’s Communications and Multimedia Act for the “101 East” program “Locked Up in Malaysia’s Lockdown,” reports said.

In a statement, Al-Jazeera condemned the raid as a “troubling escalation” and called on Malaysian authorities to end investigations into their journalists. “Al Jazeera stands by our journalists and we stand by our reporting.”

An official with the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission media regulator confirmed that the raid took place without providing any details of the operation, The Star reported. CPJ’s emailed request for comment to Malaysia’s National Police Headquarters did not immediately receive a reply.

“Malaysian authorities must stop harassing Al-Jazeera and drop all investigations into the broadcaster’s reporters and staff,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s government should stop treating journalists as criminals.”

Police officials claimed the 25-minute report was inaccurate, misleading, and unfair after interrogating Al-Jazeera’s reporters on July 10, as CPJ documented at the time. National Police Chief Abdul Hamid Bador said the staffers were questioned as “witnesses, not suspects,” Reuters reported.

The harassment follows other recent incidents in which Malaysian authorities targeted reporters.

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 is also pursuing contempt of court charges against the news website Malaysiakini and its editor, Steven Gan, for comments posted to the website by readers that were perceived as critical of the judiciary, CPJ documented at the time.

Hearings in the trial have been completed and a verdict in the case is expected in the coming days, according to a person familiar with the situation who communicated with CPJ on condition of anonymity to avoid possible penalty.