KUALA LUMPUR, July 8 — The Immigration Department’s circular seeking public information on a Bangladeshi national for investigation over a documentary which carried allegations of mistreatment of migrant workers in Malaysia could possibly trigger a full-blown witch hunt, civil societies group warned today.

The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) said it had noted a spike in hate speech and threats of violence and harassment against foreign workers that were exacerbated further after one interviewee in the Al Jazeera documentary was outed on social media for comments he made in the documentary.

The interviewee was among those quoted by Al Jazeera in its recent 101 East documentary, and his personal details have since been circulated by Malaysians online who are angry with the critical report which carried allegations of mistreatment of migrant workers in Malaysia.

“His personal information, such as his purported phone number and Facebook account, has gone viral online, with a litany of hate comments and derogatory language directed at him. 

“To make matters worse, the Immigration Department yesterday released the individual’s name, passport number and last known address.

“We fear that this could turn into a witch hunt and place not just this individual but other migrant workers in fear of their security and possible harm,” it said in a statement endorsed by 52 other civil society organisations (CSOs) and individuals.

In its notice, the Immigration Department provided the name of the 25-year-old man, his passport number, and his last known address in Kuala Lumpur, urging for the public to contact the department with any information they could provide to assist in the investigations.

The Immigration Department’s notice comes as Immigration director-general Datuk Khairul Dzaimee Daud warned that foreign nationals who make inaccurate statements aimed at “damaging Malaysia’s image” will face possible revocation of their passes.

Condemning the government’s effort to intimidate and threaten media freedom, CIJ said: “We worry that statements by Malaysian officials in recent days could further heighten tensions and incite violence and discrimination against migrants, specifically undocumented workers in the country, besides completely undermining the need for critical media reporting and exercise of freedom of expression,” it said.

Pledging solidarity with Al Jazeera, CIJ reminded government leaders that media freedom and freedom of expression underpins the fundamental right to seek and exchange ideas that would enable the public to form their own opinions while allowing dissenting positions on issues of public interest. 

“This would, ultimately, aid in the promotion of good governance and in holding the state and its officials to higher account, which is, no doubt, what is expected of a democratic state,” it said.

CIJ then called on the Perikatan Nasional government to end and refrain from the continued use of intimidating measures to threaten and punish the media and silence critical voices. 

Among the demands listed were for the government to drop all investigations against Al Jazeera including their affiliates and initiate an independent inquiry into possible mismanagement of power by state apparatus in the handling of the raids targeted at migrant workers.

It also called on the government to prevent incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence against migrant workers and other foreigners through government rhetoric or messaging while ensuring threats made against these groups are investigated.

Al Jazeera drew attention to the detention of migrants caught in Covid-19 red zones around Kuala Lumpur when the country was under the movement control order (MCO), which eventually led to clusters of outbreaks in detention depots.

On July 3, Qatar-based news channel Al Jazeera released a 25.50 minute-long documentary titled “Locked up in Malaysia’s lockdown” regarding undocumented migrant workers in Malaysia.

On July 5, Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Adham Baba said the allegations of Malaysian authorities’ discrimination against undocumented migrants was incorrect, saying that measures taken to detect Covid-19 was applied to all regardless of whether they were citizens or not.

On July 6, Home Minister Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainuddin said the authorities had merely acted in line with the public’s wish for all living in Malaysia to comply with local laws, including for foreigners to have the necessary permit and valid documents to be allowed to work here.

Senior Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob also said that the Al Jazeera documentary was malicious and carried false allegations of purported wrongful detainment of illegal migrants in areas under that were placed under the enhanced movement control order (EMCO), pointing out that the same movement restrictions and government-paid Covid-19 screening during the EMCO applied to both locals and foreigners alike.

Ismail Sabri also clarified that the Malaysian government gave the same treatment to foreigners regardless of whether they had official documentation or were without proper documents, by screening and treating them for Covid-19.

But he also pointed out that undocumented migrants that tested negative for Covid-19, or have recovered, would still be undocumented and would be treated as such by authorities, while also accusing Al Jazeera of fabricating lies and clarified that migrant children were not handcuffed but were instead kept with their parents in detention centres.

According to Al Jazeera, Hamzah, Ismail Sabri and their deputies had not responded to requests for interviews.

The police have initiated investigations over the Al Jazeera documentary, with Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Abdul Hamid Bador saying that police would be calling up those involved in the documentary for further questioning.