Police confirm investigating SCMP report of Malaysia’s rounding up of migrants amid Covid-19

Federal Criminal Investigations Department director Datuk Huzir Mohamed confirmed that an investigation is being conducted on this case. — Picture by Firdaus Latif
Federal Criminal Investigations Department director Datuk Huzir Mohamed confirmed that an investigation is being conducted on this case. — Picture by Firdaus Latif

KUALA LUMPUR, May 3 — The police today confirmed it has launched investigations over a news report by Hong Kong-based news outlet South China Morning Post (SCMP) over the authorities’ recent raid and mass arrests of foreign migrants.

In a press conference this afternoon, Bukit Aman criminal investigation department director Comm Datuk Huzir Mohamed confirmed that an investigation is being conducted on this case.

“We have opened investigation papers,” he said in a brief response.

The news report published by SCMP on May 1 is titled “Coronavirus: hundreds arrested as Malaysia cracks down on migrants in Covid-19 red zones”, written by journalists Tashny Sukumaran and Bhavan Jaipragas.

Earlier today, Tashny had on Twitter said the police will be questioning her over the matter.

“Happy World Press Freedom Day! I have been summoned to Bukit Aman this Wednesday for questioning over my reporting of the immigration raid on the downtown KL red zone on #MayDay.

“According to PDRM, I am being investigated under Sek 504 of the Penal Code and Sek 233 of the Communications & Multimedia Act,” she said as part of several tweets.

Section 504 of the Penal Code — which is punishable with a maximum two-year jail term or fine or both — covers the offence of “intentional insult with intent to provoke a breach” of the public peace.

Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act covers the offence of improper use of network services or network facilities, and carries the penalty of a maximum RM50,000 fine or maximum one-year jail term or both.

Separately, Communications and Multimedia Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah also clarified on Twitter that he has asked regulator Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) to not act against her.

“I may not like your piece, but I will defend your right to write it,” he said in the same tweet, citing as example the health director-general’s clarification yesterday of the issues raised in the SCMP report as the correct way to handle things.

In response, Tashny said reporters write based on observations, interviews and facts and that it is not their job to write what the government likes, further arguing that she is being subject to police investigation just for doing her job as a reporter.

Tashny also explained that she had sought comments from the relevant authorities.

About Section 233

In response to the Centre for Independent Journalism Malaysia which said the bigger issue was actually the continued use of Section 233 and whether the current government would be pushing for a review and repeal of this provision to avoid arbitrary application, Saifuddin also wrote on Twitter that he is looking into the Communications and Multimedia Act.

Critics have in the past highlighted the potential for the Section 233 provision to be misused against detractors of the administration’s actions.

Among other things, Section 233 makes it a crime to make any comment, request, suggestion, or other communication deemed as “obscene, indecent, false, menacing or offensive in character” with the intent to “annoy, abuse, threaten or harass another person”.

Last October, Saifuddin’s predecessor Gobind Singh Deo had said there was a need to review Section 233 as it was too “wide” in nature.

Gobind had also in September 2018 as the minister then spoke of plans to review the Section 233 provision to prevent arbitrary prosecution by requiring “proof of intent” before a statement can be considered offensive.

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