Malaysian police on Tuesday raided the office of news broadcaster al-Jazeera and two local TV stations, seizing computers as part of an investigation into a documentary on undocumented migrants that enraged the government.
Al-Jazeera, a Qatari-state owned broadcaster, said in a statement that police seized two computers during the raid, which it called a “troubling escalation” in a government crackdown on media freedom.
It urged Malaysian authorities to cease the criminal investigation.
However, Malaysian Inspector-General of Police Abdul Hamid Bador yesterday insisted that the investigations into the documentary were being conducted “very professionally” and rejected concerns about worsening media freedom.
“It was not a military kind of action taken by the police,” he told Agence France-Presse.
Al-Jazeera staff were “informed earlier of our intent to be there. They were even asked which devices were used. They cooperated,” he said.
Abdul Hamid said the investigation “will be very transparent” and insisted journalists in Malaysia were still free to do their jobs, but he also urged international media to “be responsible,” calling them not to “write something ... that is inaccurate.”
Police last month opened an investigation into the al-Jazeera documentary on the treatment of undocumented migrants after officials complained that it was inaccurate and biased.
Seven al-Jazeera staff members have been grilled by police as part of the probe for alleged sedition, defamation and breaching the Communications and Multimedia Act.
Police obtained court warrants to search the offices of al-Jazeera, as well as local broadcasters Astro and Unifitv, criminal investigation chief Huzir Mohamed said in a statement.
The two local TV stations had reportedly aired the video.
Huzir said the raids were conducted jointly with the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission, which is also investigating the stations.
Al-Jazeera said the raid was “an attack on press freedom as a whole” and urged Malaysian authorities to cease the criminal investigation.
“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,” al-Jazeera English managing director Giles Trendle said.
“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 apologize for. Journalism is not a crime,” he said.
The documentary, Locked Up in Malaysia’s Lockdown, investigated undocumented immigrants it said were at risk during the COVID-19 pandemic.
More than 2,000 migrant workers were arrested during raids in areas in Kuala Lumpur that were placed under tight virus lockdowns.
Malaysian authorities also detained a Bangladeshi man interviewed in the documentary after revoking his work permit, and said they would deport him for criticizing the government over its handling of undocumented migrants.
“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,” said Matthew Bugher, head of the Asia program of British-based rights group Article 19.
Malaysia should investigate the rights violations shown in the documentary instead of targeting the filmmakers, he said.
Rights advocates have voiced concern over a clampdown on freedom of speech and media independence under Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, who took power in March.
Additional reporting by AFP
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