News World Press freedom under attack: Malaysian police consider charges for Australian journalists
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Press freedom under attack: Malaysian police consider charges for Australian journalists

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Malaysian authorities are considering charging five Australian journalists who have been interrogated about a documentary they shot on migrant workers in the Asian nation.

The New Daily understands Malaysian police are expected to make a decision in the coming week about prosecuting the Al Jazeera crew for sedition and defamation.

They could face prison if charged and found guilty.

Reporter Drew Ambrose, executive producer Sharon Roobol, producer Jenni Henderson, cameraman Craig Hansen, and a fifth Australian were questioned a week after Al Jazeera broadcast the documentary.

The New Daily understands the five journalists are seeking legal advice.

Malaysian authorities claimed the 25-minute English-language documentary produced by the team violated the nation’s communications and multi-media laws.

Al Jazeera stood by the quality and impartiality of its journalism.

Charging journalists for doing their jobs is not the action of a democracy that values free speech,” the broadcaster said.

“Journalism is not a crime.”

Australia’s media union wrote to the Deputy High Commissioner for Malaysia, His Excellency Mohd Fareed Zakaria, saying the journalists had faced death threats and harassment.

“Since the broadcast, Al Jazeera personnel in Malaysia have been targeted in a sustained campaign of online abuse (‘trolling’),” the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance letter read.

They have received death threats and, in an extreme threat to their safety, they have been subjected to ‘doxing’, …

“… the disclosure of their personnel details on social media platforms in order to enable and provoke further harassment, threats and intimidation.

“A source used in the story has even been pursued through the use of a ‘wanted’ notice.”

On Saturday, Melbourne Press Club president  and investigative journalist Nick McKenzie called for the Malaysian police to immediately drop their investigation.

These journalists were simply doing their job and they should not be treated like criminals,” McKenzie said.

“Their reporting was fair and balanced and they should be free to do their jobs without fear of retribution from the government.”

Press freedom under attack in Malaysia

There are growing concerns over crackdowns on media freedom under Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s government, which came to power in March.

Press freedom has been under attack since Muhyiddin Yassin came to power. Photo: Getty

Senior lecturer and Malaysian media expert at Australia National University Dr Ross Tapsell said the country is going back to “the old regime”.

“For 60 years Malaysia had the same government, a semi-authoritarian regime,” Dr Tapsell explained.

“In 2018 there was a historical change of government – there was more opening up of the press, and that lasted until February 2020.

Under Prime Minister Yassin, Malaysia now has a government “linked to the old regime, who are now back in,” Dr Tapsell said.

“In recent times we’ve seen a number of cases of use of the law and security forces, including police, to assert authority over media which has been seen to be critical of the government.”

Human Rights Watch has warned against the Malaysian government’s growing intolerance of criticism.

“Malaysia’s Perikatan Nasional government is increasingly responding to public criticism by carrying out abusive investigations on specious charges,” said Phil Robertson, HRW’s deputy Asia director.

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin should recognize that everyone has a right to criticize their government without fear of investigation or prosecution.”

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is providing assistance to the Australian journalists, but would not provide comment to The New Daily on the case, citing privacy obligations.