Malaysian police question Al Jazeera journalists over report on immigrants

Al Jazeera journalists leave Bukit Aman police station after being questioned over a documentary about the country’s arrests of undocumented migrants, Kuala Lumpur, July 10, 2020. (Reuters)
Short Url
Updated 10 July 2020

Malaysian police question Al Jazeera journalists over report on immigrants

  • Al Jazeera journalists under investigation for sedition following the broadcast of a documentary about the mistreatment of migrant workers in Kuala Lumpur
  • The 25-minute documentary, titled “Locked Up in Malaysia’s Lockdown,” was broadcast as part of Al Jazeera’s “101 East” documentary strand on July 3

KUALA LUMPUR: Six members of staff from state-owned Qatari news broadcaster Al Jazeera were questioned by police in Malaysia on Friday.

They are under investigation for sedition following the broadcast of a documentary about the mistreatment of migrant workers in Kuala Lumpur during the coronavirus lockdown.

“The documentary has ignited a backlash among the public,” said national police chief Abdul Hamid Bador. “During our investigation, we found out there were inaccuracies in the documentary that were aimed at creating a bad image of Malaysia.”

He said police have discussed the case with the attorney general and added: “We are going to give a fair investigation and a fair opportunity for them to defend themselves, in case the AG wants to file charges against them.”

The journalists, accompanied by their lawyers, were questioned at police headquarters in Kuala Lumpur.

The 25-minute documentary, titled “Locked Up in Malaysia’s Lockdown,” was broadcast as part of Al Jazeera’s “101 East” documentary strand on July 3. It highlighted the plight of undocumented migrants reportedly arrested during raids on COVID-19 lockdown hotspots. Malaysian officials said the report was inaccurate and misleading.

On Thursday, Al Jazeera said it refutes the charges and “stands by the professionalism, quality and impartiality of its journalism” and has “serious concerns about developments that have occurred in Malaysia since the broadcast of the documentary.” It added: “Al Jazeera is deeply concerned that its staff are now subject to a police investigation.”

However, the incident highlights the broadcaster’s double standards in reporting issues about migrant workers. When Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused Qatar in February of failing to implement a system to ensure construction companies pay migrant workers on time, the issue was not highlighted by Al Jazeera, the headquarters of which is in Doha.

On May 23, migrant workers staged a rare protest in Qatar over unpaid wages but Al Jazeera did not send reporters to interview the demonstrators.

Also in May, HRW said that crowded and unsanitary conditions at Doha Central Prison were exacerbating the COVID-19 threat. The organization urged Qatar to reduce the size of prison populations and ensure inmates have access to adequate medical care, along with masks, sanitizer and gloves. Again Al Jazeera did not focus on the issue.

Activists and civil-society groups criticized the Malaysian government for its heavy-handed move against Al Jazeera.

“The Malaysian government should stop trying to intimidate the media when it reports something the powers that be don’t like,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director of HRW’s Asia division. “The reality is Malaysia has treated migrant workers very shoddily and Al Jazeera has caught them out on it.”

Nalini Elumalai, the Malaysia program officer for freedom of speech advocacy group Article 19, said the action against Al Jazeera is alarming and akin to “shooting the messenger.”

She added: “The government should instead initiate an independent inquiry into the issues raised in the documentary.”

There are at least 2 million migrant workers in Malaysia, though the true number is thought to be much higher as many are undocumented. They are a source of cheap, low-skilled labor in industries considered dirty and dangerous.


Strict mask, visor rules make Philippine commuters sweat

Updated 20 September 2020

Strict mask, visor rules make Philippine commuters sweat

  • It is compulsory to wear both masks and plastic shields in indoor public spaces and on public transport in the national capital to curb the spread of the coronavirus

MANILA: In the sweltering heat and humidity, 31-year-old Caitlyn Tojanes grumbles about having to wear a face shield over her mask as she waits in line for her bus in the Philippine capital Manila.
“It’s uncomfortable. Combined with the long queues it means we get to work already tired and bathed in sweat,” said Tojanes, whose commute involves three buses and takes several hours.
But she is resigned to the new normal in the Philippines, where it is now compulsory to wear both masks and plastic shields in indoor public spaces and on public transport to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
“With Covid, it’s up to the people to maintain discipline,” said Tojanes, who works as a store manager in the sprawling capital of 12 million where most of the country’s infections have been recorded.
“People should not put the entire burden on the government. We must practice self-discipline.”
The latest measure comes as the country struggles to contain the virus outbreak, recording the highest number of confirmed cases in Southeast Asia with more than 283,000 infections and over 4,900 deaths.
Six months after tough restrictions were introduced to curb the contagion — including stay-at-home orders, travel bans and no talking on buses and trains — infections are still rising by several thousand every day.
Some measures have been eased to help kickstart the devastated economy.
“It’s a big adjustment having to wear a mask and a face shield and having to wash your hands with alcohol each time you touch something,” said Jeff Langurayan, 31, his voice slightly muffled by the layers of material and plastic over his face.
But he accepts the need for precautions.
“A lot of people have died and you do not know what will hit you and what effect it would have on your body.”