Malaysian police have raided Al Jazeera’s Kuala Lumpur office and seized two computers, the news network said, condemning the incident as a “troubling escalation” in the government’s crackdown on press freedoms.
The raid on Tuesday came after authorities in Malaysia announced they were investigating Al Jazeera for sedition, defamation and violation of the country’s Communications and Multimedia Act.
The probe relates to a 101 East programme that aired on July 3 and examined the Malaysian government’s treatment of undocumented migrant workers during the coronavirus pandemic.
Giles Trendle, managing director of Al Jazeera English, said the network was “gravely concerned” by the raid and the criminal charges, which carry jail terms and hefty fines, and called on the Malaysian government to cease its investigation against the network’s journalists immediately.
“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,” Trendle said in a statement.
“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 apologise for. Journalism is not a crime.”
The raid comes nearly a month after Malaysian police questioned seven of Al Jazeera’s journalists over the documentary, titled Locked Up in Malaysia’s Lockdown.
Since the film’s release, Al Jazeera said its staff and the individuals interviewed in the documentary had faced abuse, death threats and the disclosure of their personal details on social media.
A Bangladeshi man interviewed for the short film, Mohamad Rayhan Kabir, was arrested on July 24 and authorities said he would be “deported and blacklisted from entering Malaysia forever”.
Malaysian officials have criticised the 101 Eastinvestigative report as being inaccurate, misleading and unfair. Saifuddin Abdulla, the communications minister, also said Al Jazeera had failed to seek a permit to shoot the film. But the network strongly refuted those allegations, saying 101 East is a weekly current affairs show that does not fall into the category of films requiring a licence.
Amnesty International Malaysia expressed concern over Tuesday’s raid in a Twitter post, saying “the government’s crackdown on migrants and refugees, as well as those who speak up in their defense, is clearly meant to silence and intimidate and should be condemned”.
Al-Jazeera’s office in KL was raided by police authorities today.
The government’s crackdown on migrants and refugees, as well those speak up in their defense, is clearly meant to silence and intimidate and should be condemned.
Protect migrants. Protect freedom of expression.
— Amnesty International Malaysia (@AmnestyMy) August 4, 2020
In May, another journalist and an activist were questioned over their reporting on the arrest of hundreds of migrant workers during Malaysia’s lockdown.
Tashny Sukumaran, a correspondent working for the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post, was questioned after she reported on the roundups, while an activist for refugees, Wan Noor Hayati Wan Alias, was also called in about a Facebook post on the treatment of migrant workers and refugees.
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the Committee to Protect Journalists CPJ) have urged Malaysia to drop the case against Al Jazeera and to allow journalists to do their jobs.
“There has been a distinct pattern under the COVID-19 crisis of media workers targeted under Malaysia’s Communications and Multimedia Act and Penal Code for simply doing their job,” the IFJ said in a statement in July.
“It is urgent for Malaysia during the pandemic to prioritise the public’s right to know and for the media to be able to report freely and fairly without the threat of persecution.”
CPJ’s Shawn Crispin called the probe against Al Jazeera a “witch hunt” and said 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”.