Al Jazeera staff grilled in Malaysia over report on migrant arrests


Kuala Lampur (Reuters) – Malaysian police questioned six employees of broadcaster Al Jazeera on Friday over a documentary on the arrest of undocumented migrants that authorities said was inaccurate, misleading and unfair.

Qatar-based Al Jazeera said it stood by the professionalism, quality and impartiality of its journalism.

Rights groups have raised concerns over crackdowns on media freedom under Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s government, which came to power in March, as well as rising anger toward foreigners, who have been accused of spreading the novel coronavirus and being a burden on state resources.

The Al Jazeera staff were called in after authorities determined a documentary contained elements that could be investigated under a sedition, criminal and communications law, national police chief Abdul Hamid Bador told reporters.

“They are coming in as witnesses, not suspects,” Abdul Hamid said, adding that the attorney-general’s office would decide on any further action.

Al Jazeera called on Malaysia to withdraw the criminal investigation.

“Charging journalists for doing their jobs is not the action of a democracy that values free speech. Journalism is not a crime,” it said in a statement.

The prime minister’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

The documentary, “Locked up in Malaysia’s Lockdown”, aired by the station’s 101 East news programme last week, focused on the plight of undocumented migrants detained during coronavirus lockdowns.

Al Jazeera said it had repeatedly sought the government’s view but requests for interviews with ministers and officials were not accepted.

Despite this, it said it had produced a balanced film by including comments made by the defence minister at two news conferences.

Al Jazeera said its staff and those interviewed in the documentary had faced abuse, death threats and the disclosure of their personal details on social media.

Abdul Hamid said he would ensure that the media would be protected and allowed to operate freely.

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