KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) – Malaysian police said yesterday they are investigating an Al Jazeera documentary about the arrests of undocumented migrants during the coronavirus lockdown after officials denounced it for damaging the country’s image.
The move comes after several activists, journalists and opposition figures have been put under investigation recently in what critics say is a bid to silence dissent.
The documentary by the Qatar-based broadcaster, Locked Up in Malaysia’s Lockdown, focussed on the detention of hundreds of migrants found without valid documents in areas under strict lockdowns.
Authorities defended the May arrests as necessary to protect public health, but rights groups warned that putting the foreigners in detention centres could increase the risk of infection.
National Police Chief Abdul Hamid Bador said an investigation had been launched after complaints were lodged about the 25-minute documentary.
Officials would examine whether the report “contains elements of sedition, or any other offences, under the laws of the country”, he told a press conference.
“We will be calling them soon for questioning… We will decide on the charges after we question them.”
Al Jazeera, which broadcast the documentary last week, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The programme sparked a backlash online, and ministers have lined up to criticise it – with Defence Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob on Monday demanding an apology from Al Jazeera.
He said the broadcaster had “reported incorrect things, accusing us of being racist”.
Concerns about worsening freedom of expression have been growing in Malaysia since the collapse of a reformist government in February and the return of a scandal-plagued party to power.
One of the country’s leading independent news portals, Malaysiakini, faces contempt of court proceedings next week over reader comments on its site that were critical of the judiciary.
Malaysia is home to large numbers of migrants from poorer countries – including Indonesia, Bangladesh and Myanmar – who work in industries ranging from manufacturing to agriculture.