Police Raid Al Jazeera's Malaysian Office Over Migrant Documentary, Stirring Up Concerns About Press Freedom

“Journalism is not a crime,” Al Jazeera English’s managing director said.
August 5, 2020, 8:14am
A control room at the Al Jazeera broadcast center in Kuala Lumpur on November 21, 2006.

Malaysian police raided the Kuala Lumpur office of Al Jazeera on Tuesday, August 4, in response to the broadcaster’s release of an investigative documentary about the treatment of undocumented migrant workers in Malaysia during COVID-19.

Malaysian police launched an investigation into the network’s local outpost for sedition and defamation last month after it published the 25-minute documentary titled “Locked up in Malaysia’s Lockdown.

On Tuesday, authorities stormed the office and seized two computers, Al Jazeera said.

Huzir Mohammed, the director of the Royal Malaysia Police criminal investigations department, said in a statement on Tuesday that authorities were issued warrants to conduct searches on the offices of Al Jazeera and two other local broadcasting stations.

Malaysian officials have called _Al Jazeera_’s documentary misleading and inaccurate and said that its film crew neglected to get the appropriate permits for their shoot.

Al Jazeera reported last month that a Bangladeshi migrant featured in the film was arrested and is now facing deportation, adding that his work permit has been revoked.

The Qatari-backed media network rejected the allegations made by Malaysian authorities last month and said that it harbored “serious concerns about the developments that have occurred in Malaysia since the broadcast of its documentary.”

Al Jazeera strongly refutes these charges and stands by the professionalism, quality, and impartiality of its journalism,” the network said in a July 9 statement.

“Charging journalists for doing their jobs is not the action of a democracy that values free speech.”

The outlet added that it was concerned its staff were now at the center of a police investigation and said that it also worried about the safety of the subjects featured in the documentary.

On Tuesday, the network responded to news of the police raid, saying that it views the actions of the Malaysian authorities “not only as an attack on Al Jazeera but on press freedom as a whole.”

Giles Trendle, Managing Director of Al Jazeera English, called on the Malaysian government to cease its criminal investigation into the network’s journalists.

“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.

Al Jazeera stands by our journalists and we stand by our reporting,” he added. “Our staff did their jobs and they’ve got nothing to answer for or apologize for. Journalism is not a crime.”

Malaysia has a vast network of foreign workers and is home to large numbers of migrant workers from countries like Bangladesh and Myanmar. Malaysia’s Ministry of Human Resources said in October 2019 that it had nearly 2 million foreign workers registered under its temporary work permit.

Malaysia’s defense minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob has insisted that the government’s treatment of undocumented migrants during the pandemic has been humane and said that detentions of migrants were necessary to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Rights groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch condemned Tuesday’s raid on the Al Jazeera office, calling it an “outrageous infringement of media freedom” and a move “clearly meant to silence and intimidate”.

The Foreign Correspondents Club of Malaysia (FCCM) released a statement on Tuesday evening, urging Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s government to “uphold its commitment to protect and facilitate press freedom”.

“The FCCM is of the view that such excessive actions reflect further erosion of media freedom in Malaysia in recent months and suggests a worrying trend of employing intimidation tactics to silence news reports unfavorable to the ruling government,” the group said.

Photo credit: AFP PHOTO/TENGKU BAHAR
TENGKU BAHAR/AFP