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Malaysia slammed sedition charges on Al Jazeera’s reporter over a documentary on migrant workers

Malaysia’s defence minister, Ismail Sabri criticised media network Al Jazeera's 26-mins documentary "locked up in Malaysia's lockdown" as "deceptive and unethical", and charged sedition against Al Jazeera, a big controversy has erupted whose consequences might be noticed on diplomatic ties between Qatar and Malaysia.

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The 26-minute documentary by journalists Drew Ambrose and Jenni Henderson which was broadcasted on July 3 had depicted the treatment of migrants in Malaysia during the COVID-19 outbreak in Kuala Lumpur’s emergency zones, where infection rates had skyrocketed in early May.

The video, which has been viewed 1.4 million times since it was posted last Friday, alleged that hundreds of migrants were rounded up by authorities and ferried to detention centres to be tested for the virus. Al Jazeera 101 East documentary investigated the plight of thousands of undocumented migrant workers who mostly come from poor countries like Bangladesh, Indonesia and Myanmar arrested during a raid in areas under tight lockdown.

Defence Minister of Malaysia, Ismail Sabri Yaakob had commented on the documentary on Monday, saying that it did not portray the full picture of the situation in Malaysia. But he also implied that it was rare for illegal immigrants to be free in any country. “We give equal treatment to legal and illegal foreigners. What we did was based on the law,” he told the reporters on Monday.

Al Jazeera senior producer Drew Ambrose leaves Bukit Aman police headquarters after being questioned by the Malaysian police over a documentary on the country’s arrests of undocumented migrants, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia July 10, 2020. Photo: Reuters/Lim Huey Teng

Yaakob also called on Al Jazeera to apologise to Malaysians and criticised the report, claiming it was inaccurate, misleading and unfair adding that allegations of racism and discrimination against undocumented migrants were untrue. Malaysian police announced an investigation of Al Jazeera staff over potential sedition, defamation and violation of the country’s Communications and Multimedia Act.

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But unfortunately, undocumented workers have not suddenly appeared. They have been here for years and the authorities did nothing against them or the human traffickers, which brought them here, he said, adding rounding them up under the COVID-19 Movement Control Order (MCO) will not make them disappear and can prove counter-productive, as highlighted by Al Jazeera.

A group of Malaysian keyboard warriors who call themselves the “Bawang Army” has been attacking the Al Jazeera Qatari news channel online over a mini-documentary they claim had tarnished Malaysia’s image. “They deserve the Bawang Army assault,” the page admin wrote, also claiming that they were making an effort in “preserving Malaysia’s image.” The undergrad also started a petition demanding an apology from the international news outlet, which has since gained nearly 12,000 signatures.

Meanwhile, the Qatar-based broadcaster on Thursday said it stands by “the professionalism, quality and impartiality of its journalism”, and warned of “serious concerns about developments that have occurred in Malaysia since the broadcast of the documentary.”

Al Jazeera also said it has “grave concerns” about its staff in Malaysia who have faced abuse online, including death threats and disclosure of their personal details over social media. It urged Malaysian authorities “to respect media freedom and desist from treating its journalists as criminals”.

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Malaysia should stop treating criticism as a crime. Malaysian authorities are increasingly responding to criticism of the government by initiating a criminal investigation, human rights watch said today. Journalists, civil society activists and ordinary people questioning for peaceful speech under broadly worded laws that violate the right to expression.

 

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