The two journalists, Drew Ambrose and Jenni Henderson, were formally notified yesterday that their work visas were not being renewed. Immigration director-general Khairul Dzaimee Daud said Al Jazeera had broadcast statements that were “inaccurate and aimed at damaging Malaysia’s image.”
Ambrose and Henderson are among seven journalists working at the bureau who are being investigated for sedition, defamation and violating the Communications and Multimedia Act in a report broadcast by Al Jazeera on 3 July about a wave of arrests of migrant workers in the course of efforts to combat the coronavirus epidemic.
As part of this investigation, the police searched Al Jazeera’s bureau on 4 August, seizing two computers. The police also raided Astro Satellite TV and Unifi Internet TV, two Malaysian TV operators that retransmit Al Jazeera.
The seven journalists, who were summoned for questioning on 10 July, are also the targets of online hate campaigns and death threats that are being orchestrated by pro-government trolls.
As well as targeting the journalists, the police have also arrested Mohamad Rayhan Kabir, a Bangladeshi migrant worker turned whistleblower, who spoke openly on camera to Al Jazeera for their story about migrant worker arrests. Kabir is about to be deported.
“What with intimidation, harassment, violation of the confidentiality of sources and expulsions, the current government’s attitude towards Al Jazeera’s journalists is clearly that of a dictatorial regime and recalls the worst periods in Malaysia’s history,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.
“We urge Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s to order the immediate withdrawal of all charges against this TV channel’s journalists, who have just done their jobs by investigating an issue of major public interest. If nothing is done, Malaysia’s ranking in the World Press Freedom Index is likely to plummet.”
Return to the past
After a change of government through the polls in May 2018, the first in modern Malaysia’s history, the overall environment for journalists improved dramatically. But, since the fall of Mahathir Mohamad’s reformist government in February and his replacement as prime minister by Muhyiddin Yassin, press freedom violations have increased alarmingly, triggering fears of a return to the past.
Malaysiakini news website editor Steven Gan appeared in court in July on an absurd contempt of court charge prompted solely by comments critical of the judiciary posted by readers, while Tashny Sukumaran, a reporter for Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post daily, has been summoned twice for questioning by police, on 6 May and 1 July.
Malaysia is ranked 101st out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.