The Centre for Independent Journalism is a non-profit organisation promoting media independence and freedom of expression in Malaysia.
Media groups and NGOs have condemned Putrajaya for raiding Al Jazeera and two local broadcasters over the airing of Al Jazeera’s controversial documentary on Malaysia’s treatment of undocumented migrants and warned of deteriorating media freedom the country.
They urged the government to stop their attack against media organisations as journalism is not a crime.
In a statement, the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) said it is alarmed by, and strongly condemned, the ongoing effort of the government to intimidate and persecute Al Jazeera.
“We are appalled that the crackdown on Al Jazeera and those associated with the documentary continues to persist, despite widespread scrutiny and uproar from civil society organisations, politicians and the public,” it said.
The media watchdog reiterated its call for the government to conduct an independent inquiry or investigation into the allegations, as reported in “Locked up in Malaysia’s Lockdown”, the documentary aired on Al Jazeera’s weekly programme “101 East” on July 3.
Yesterday, police and the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission raided Al Jazeera’s office in Kuala Lumpur as well as the offices of Astro and Unifi TV.
The police began to probe Al Jazeera last month following a report made by the Immigration Department in Putrajaya.
Al Jazeera is being probed under Section 500 of the Penal Code and Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998.
A migrant worker interviewed for the short film was arrested on July 24 and authorities said he would be “deported and blacklisted from entering Malaysia forever”.
“The recent actions against several media and journalists are indicative of a deliberate and concerted effort by the state at silencing voices and reporting that are critical or dissenting.
“This is a serious threat to our right to information and freedom of speech and expression. We are deeply concerned that if this practise continues, our democracy will be at threat and political priorities will continue to prevail over public interest,” said CIJ.
CIJ also voiced concerns if this would impact Malaysia’s position on the World Press Freedom Index.
The media group urged the government to drop all investigation and stop all acts of intimidation against Al Jazeera and related media entities, included Astro and UnifiTV.
CIJ also called for a moratorium on the use of repressive laws that the government committed to amending.
This included Section 233 of the Communication and Multimedia Act 1998, Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984, Sedition Act 1948, the Official Secrets Act 1972 and the National Film Development Corporation (Finas) Act 1981.
Gerakan Media Merdeka (Geramm), in a statement yesterday, said it viewed the raid on Al Jazeera’s Kuala Lumpur office, Astro and UnifiTV with serious concern as it represented yet another move to crack down on media freedom.
“We echo the global call that journalism is not a crime and journalists should never be attacked in any way just for carrying out our duties.
“This includes concerted online abuse targeted towards Al Jazeera staff and journalists by social media users who condemned the documentary,” it said.
The media watchdog questioned the need for the authorities to carry out the raids.
“This latest action also contradicts a personal reassurance given by Inspector-General of Police Abdul Hamid Bador in which he guaranteed to uphold press freedom in the country.
“Geramm stands together in solidarity with our colleagues in Al Jazeera, and we urge authorities not to treat journalists who are reporting the news as criminals,” is said in a statement yesterday.
Geramm urged the government to continue to uphold press Freedom in Malaysia as pledged by Communications and Multimedia Minister Saifuddin Abdullah.
The Foreign Correspondents Club of Malaysia (FCCM) said the excessive actions by the authorities reflected further erosion of media freedom seen in the country in recent months.
It viewed with concern the worrying trend of employing intimidation tactics to silence news reports unfavourable to the government.
“The club is of the stance that authorities should engage with media organisations over news reports they find critical or are a misrepresentation of the facts.
“We wish to reiterate that journalism is not a crime and media personnel should not face criminal investigations or charges for performing their duty.
“We urge the Malaysian government to uphold its commitment to protect and facilitate press freedom and stands in solidarity with colleagues from Al Jazeera,” it said.
FCMM said it was nearly five years ago to the day when it, along with other media organisations, marched for press freedom after a clampdown during the 1MDB saga and yet little progress has been made since.
“We would like to remind all stakeholders how that particular scandal has played out since, and the crucial role the media played in uncovering it,” it said.
Meanwhile, human rights NGO Article 19 said 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,” Matthew Bugher, Article 19’s head of Asia Programme
Article 19 is a London-based international lobby group that seeks to promote Article 19 of the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.