The Institute of Journalists Malaysia (IoJ), Foreign Correspondents Club of Malaysia and Gerakan Media Merdeka (Geramm) are deeply concerned by the arrest and alleged poor treatment of two journalists by Kelantan state authorities during a crackdown on a blockade set up by the Orang Asli community on 24 January.
It is understood that freelance journalists Jules Ong and Chi Too, who were engaged by Singapore broadcaster Channel News Asia to film a story on deforestation, were arrested in an early morning operation led by the Kelantan Forestry Department to tear down the blockade.
Ong confirmed that both he and Chi Too were also handcuffed when they were arrested, corroborating information sourced earlier from the Malaysian Indigenous Peoples Network (JOAS) and lawyer Siti Kasim, who acted on behalf of both journalists over the course of their detention.
According to Siti Kasim, the authorities had initially denied her access to both Ong and Chi Too but relented after arguing on points of law. She said they are being investigated under Section 47 of the National Forestry Act for being in a forest reserve without a permit.
Siti Kasim added that Chi Too was allegedly threatened by Kelantan Forestry Department officers, warning him not to be like “Bruno Manser”and that the two journalists would be tailed for a week. (Bruno Manser was a Swiss environmental activist who helped Sarawakian tribespeople organise blockades against timber companies but disappeared during his last journey to Sarawak in May 2000).
While we do not condone unlawful acts, we stress that heavy handed treatment of journalists as in the case of Ong and Chi Too is highly unwarranted, particularly as they were in the line of duty reporting on an issue of public interest.
We also urge the Kelantan Forestry Department to investigate the incident involving its officers allegedly threatening Chi Too.
Public organisations and officials must be transparent and accountable for their actions and should treat journalists with dignity and respect as deserving of any person.
Institute of Journalists Malaysia (IoJ)
Foreign Correspondents Club of Malaysia (FCCM)
Gerakan Media Merdeka (Geramm)