101 East, Al Jazeera’s in-depth program focusing on stories across Asia Pacific, investigated why the coronavirus outbreak is forcing migrant workers into hiding. The 26-minute program, entitled Locked Up in Malaysia’s Lockdown, shows authorities putting up barbed wire in some of the poorest areas of Kuala Lumpur and arresting migrant workers who do not possess valid documents.
Police started the investigation under Section 500 of the Penal Code and Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 following a report made by the Immigration Department of Malaysia in Putrajaya. The police had also received a report on the same issue from a woman in Putrajaya after she watched the documentary on YouTube.
Senior Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob has claimed that the documentary was produced with “malicious intent” and the detainment of undocumented migrant workers were false. He also demanded Al Jazeera to apologise to the people of Malaysia. The pressure against Al Jazeera also came from the Director General of Immigration Khairul Dzaimee Daud who warned that foreign nationals who made allegedly "inaccurate statements" with intention to damage Malaysia's image could risk immediate deportation.
Senior producer and correspondent for 101 East, as well as one interviewee, were trolled and doxed. The Immigration Department even circulated a wanted notice to look for one of the sources featured in Al Jazeera’s documentary. Covid-19 has seen rising anger towards foreigners and migrant workers, who have been accused of spreading the virus and burdening state resources.
This investigation comes amid concerns over crackdowns on press freedoms under Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s government, which came to power in March this year. Malaysia’s Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) has issued a joint statement calling on authorities to refrain from the continued use of intimidating measures to threaten and punish the media and silence critical voices.
The IFJ said: “The probe launched by police is a clear violation press freedom. Journalism is not a crime and producing a documentary on the plight of migrant workers should not warrant an investigation. IFJ urges authorities to end the investigation immediately and ensure safety of journalists as well as their sources."