KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 5 — Yesterday’s police raid on Al Jazeera’s Kuala Lumpur office, as well as two other broadcasters here, who had aired the former’s documentary on the alleged mistreatment of migrants in Malaysia, is an assault on press freedom, two media watchdogs have said.
In a statement, Article 19 labelled the move by the authorities as a “troubling escalation” of purported government attacks on media freedom in Malaysia, while the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) called on the police to drop their investigations against the media agency.
“The authorities’ relentless pursuit of Al Jazeera seems to be driven by a desire to punish journalists who aired Malaysia’s dirty laundry rather than a good faith application of the law.
“The government should investigate the serious human rights violations shown in the film instead of targeting the filmmakers,” said Matthew Bugher, Article 19’s Head of Asia Programme.
A police team and officers from the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) raided the local office of Al Jazeera yesterday, and took away several devices to facilitate ongoing investigations into the Qatari news agency’s controversial documentary titled Locked Up in Malaysia’s Lockdown.
Bukit Aman Criminal Investigation Department deputy director (Investigation/Legal) Deputy Commissioner Datuk Mior Faridalathrash Wahid confirmed the raid on Al Jazeera’s Kuala Lumpur bureau at Level 27 of GTower on Jalan Tun Razak.
Bukit Aman Criminal Investigations Department Director Commissioner Datuk Huzir Mohamed said that the raid was conducted only after the police received a search warrant to facilitate investigation into the news agency’s documentary.
He added that the said search warrants for three locations were granted to the Royal Malaysia Police (PDRM) and the MCMC, by two separate Magistrates’ Courts.
On July 6, the police announced that they were investigating Al Jazeera for sedition, defamation and violations of the Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA) 1998, following the airing of Locked Up in Malaysia’s Lockdown.
Four days later, police officers from the Bukit Aman federal police headquarters questioned six Al Jazeera journalists who were involved in the production of the documentary.
The National Film Development Corporation Malaysia (Finas) on July 20 said that Al Jazeera did not have the necessary licence to film or air its documentary.
Communications and Multimedia Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah reportedly said his ministry would also check if Al Jazeera had obtained a licence from Finas to produce the documentary before it started production, saying that a lack of licence would be considered an offence as permission from Finas is needed before films and documentaries can be produced in Malaysia.
National news agency Bernama had also reported Saifuddin as saying that his ministry will via the Information Department check if Al Jazeera had violated media accreditation conditions.
The CJ said that the government “is clearly on a rampage against Al Jazeera over its documentary, which has been criticised by government leaders as being inaccurate and malicious over its depiction of the alleged mistreatment of migrant workers during the movement control order imposed to curb Covid-19.
“The crackdown against Al Jazeera, is coming after the actions taken against Malaysiakini over comments left on one of its stories by its readers, and journalists such as CodeBlue’s Boo Su-Lyn and South China Morning Post’s Tashny Sukumaran, over critical publications they authored, is indicative of a deliberate and concerted effort by the state at silencing voices and reporting that are critical or dissenting, and has the potential to paint an adverse picture of the government’s actions.
“We, therefore, call for the following measures to be adopted by the State and its apparatus: Drop all investigations and stop all acts of intimidation and adverse actions against Al Jazeera and related media entities such as Astro and UnifiTV, whistleblowers and others associated with the Al Jazeera documentary.
“Promote media freedom and create an enabling environment for the media to function with independence and with no fear of repercussion for carrying out their reporting functions,” CIJ’s executive director, Wathshlah G. Naidu, said.
On promoting media freedom, she said that this would require a commitment from the government to go “beyond rhetoric” and actually implement the promises made by Saifuddin, who said that the current government will promote media freedom and adopt measures to amend laws that restrict media freedom.
She also called for a moratorium on the use of repressive laws, including Section 233 of the CMA 1998, the Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA) 1984, the Sedition Act 1948, the Official Secrets Act (OSA) 1972 and the National Film Development Corporation (Finas) Act 1981, among others.
Wathshlah also called on the government to move ahead with the establishment of the Malaysian Media Council as a transparent and independent self-regulatory body for the industry.
“Having a media council in place will avoid the state and its agencies from becoming the sole arbiter of truth or arbitrarily censoring or punishing the media for reporting that is critical of the state,” she added.