KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — News broadcaster Al Jazeera said Malaysian police raided its Kuala Lumpur office Tuesday, calling it a “troubling escalation” in a government crackdown on media freedom.
Police opened an investigation last month into an Al Jazeera documentary on the treatment of undocumented migrants after officials complained it was inaccurate and biased. Seven Al Jazeera staff members have been grilled by police as part of the probe for alleged sedition, defamation and violating the Communications and Multimedia Act.
Al Jazeera, a Qatari-state owned broadcaster, said in a statement that police seized two computers during Tuesday's raid, which it called “an attack on press freedom as a whole." It urged Malaysian authorities to cease the criminal investigation.
“Conducting a raid on our office and seizing computers is a troubling escalation in the authorities’ crackdown on media freedom and shows the lengths they are prepared to take to try to intimidate journalists,” said Giles Trendle, managing director of Al Jazeera English.
“Al Jazeera stands by our journalists and we stand by our reporting. Our staff did their jobs and they’ve got nothing to answer for or apologize for. Journalism is not a crime," he said.
The documentary, titled “Locked Up in Malaysia’s Lockdown,” investigated undocumented immigrants it said were at risk during the coronavirus pandemic. More than 2,000 migrant workers were arrested during raids in areas in Kuala Lumpur that were placed under tight virus lockdowns.
Malaysian authorities also detained a Bangladeshi man interviewed in the documentary after revoking his work permit, and said they will deport him for criticizing the government over its handling of undocumented migrants.
Rights activists have voiced concern over a clampdown on freedom of speech and media independence under new Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, who took power in March.
Satellite television provider Astro was recently fined for airing an Al Jazeera documentary in 2015 about the 2006 murder of a Mongolian woman that allegedly contained “offensive content.”
Popular online news portal Malaysiakini and its editor face rare contempt proceedings from the attorney general over comments posted by readers against the judiciary. Police also questioned an activist about a social media post alleging mistreatment of refugees at immigration detention centers.
A journalist from the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post was also questioned earlier about her reporting on migrant arrests.