NGOs stand in solidarity with Al Jazeera and for media freedom

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Photo: Hasnoor Hussain/Al Jazeera

We, the undersigned civil society organisations (CSOs) and individuals, are alarmed by actions taken by the Malaysian government following the release of a documentary on 3 July by Al Jazeera that reported on Malaysia’s treatment of undocumented migrants during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Government ministers, heads of government agencies and the police have come out strongly against Locked Up In Malaysia’s Lockdown, with investigations being opened under Section 4(1) of the Sedition Act, Section 500 of the Penal Code and Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act.

Besides that, the Immigration Department has since threatened to revoke the passes of foreign nationals who make “inaccurate statements” and which are “aimed at damaging Malaysia’s image”.

It is deeply concerning that the immediate reaction by the authorities upon screening of the documentary was to initiate police investigation against Al Jazeera on their alleged unfavourable reporting, rather than adopting measures aimed at providing the public with an explanation or calling for an internal investigation into potential mismanagement of power or accountability.

A credible action by the government when such news is released is to hold a press conference and provide a legitimate and reasonable counter or explanation in order to avoid being seen as benefiting from the whole government machinery for political ends.

We are seeing a spike in hate speech and threats of violence and harassment against foreign workers, exacerbated further after one interviewee in the Al Jazeera documentary was outed on social media for comments he made in the documentary. His personal information, such as his purported phone number and Facebook account, has gone viral online, with a litany of hate comments and derogatory language directed at him.

READ MORE:  Al Jazeera raids: Media freedom at stake

To make matters worse, the Immigration Department released the individual’s name, passport number and last known address. We fear that this could turn into a witch-hunt and place not just this individual but other migrant workers in fear of their security and possible harm.

The government should not be complicit in human rights abuses against migrant workers, such as doxxing and threats, by promoting hatred or discrimination in their messaging. We worry that statements by Malaysian officials in recent days could further heighten tensions and incite violence and discrimination against migrants, specifically undocumented workers in the country, besides completely undermining the need for critical media reporting and exercise of freedom of expression.

We stand in solidarity with Al Jazeera and strongly condemn efforts by the state to intimidate and threaten media freedom and independence in Malaysia, instances of which have been systematic and heightened since the change of government this year and includes investigations and charges using various laws levied against journalist Tashny Sukumaran, former radio deejay Patrick Teoh and CodeBlue editor-in-chief Boo Su-Lyn, among others.

We remind the state and its leaders that media freedom and freedom of expression and speech underpin the fundamental right to seek and exchange ideas, opinions and information that would enable the public to form their own opinions and allow for dissenting or alternative positions, specifically on issues of public interest. This would, ultimately, aid in the promotion of good governance and in holding the state and its officials to higher account, which is, no doubt, what is expected of a democratic state.

READ MORE:  New norms for Malaysian media

We call on the Perikatan Nasional government to end and refrain from the continued use of intimidating measures to threaten and punish the media and silence critical voices. To this end, we urge the government to:

  • Drop all investigations against Al Jazeera and their sources or interviewees
  • Initiate an independent inquiry into possible mismanagement or abuse of power by state apparatus and officials in the handling of the raids targeted at migrant workers
  • Stop all forms of intimidation and threats against foreigners, specifically migrant workers, from exercising their rights and voicing out their opinions
  • Prevent incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence against migrant workers and other foreigners through government rhetoric or messaging;
  • Ensure doxxing, threats and other human rights abuses, both online and offline, against migrants, including undocumented migrant workers, are investigated and perpetrators held accountable
  • Move ahead with the establishment of the Malaysian media council as a transparent and independent self-regulatory body for the industry, and to avoid the government from becoming the sole arbiter of truth and deciding what information is true and what is not

It is more paramount for the current regime to create an enabling environment that would support free media and focus on sustaining the credibility of the state in the eyes of the public; rather than reinforcing the increasing measures to silence dissent or opinions that place the ruling regime in an unfavourable light.

8 July 2020

Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) Malaysia

Endorsed by:

  1. Agora Society
  2. Aliran
  3. Amnesty International Malaysia
  4. Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights
  5. Beyond Borders Malaysia
  6. Empower Malaysia
  7. Freedom Film Network (FFN)
  8. Gerakan Media Merdeka (Geramm)
  9. Gerakan Pembebasan Akademik (GPA)
  10. Justice for Sisters
  11. Kryss Network
  12. Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall (KLSCAH) Youth Section
  13. LCw Productions & Newsgroups
  14. Malaysian Action for Justice and Unity (Maju) Foundation
  15. North-South Initiative (NSI)
  16. ODRI Intersectional rights
  17. Our Journey
  18. Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM)
  19. Persatuan Penduduk Galing Besar Kuantan
  20. Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor (PSWS)
  21. Pertubuhan Solidariti Hijau Kuantan
  22. People Like Us Hang Out (Pluho)
  23. Projek Wawasan Rakyat (POWR)
  24. Ruang Kongsi
  25. Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia (SABM)
  26. Sisters in Islam (SIS)
  27. Society for the Promotion of Human Rights (Proham)
  28. Student Unity Front UKM
  29. Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram)
  30. Success Capital Organisation
  31. Tenaganita
  32. The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih 2.0)
  33. To Earth With Love
  34. UTM-MJIIT Voices
  35. Women Against Rape, Antigua and Barbuda
READ MORE:  Malaysian police raid Al Jazeera's office, seize computers

Endorsed by the following individuals:

  1. Alda M Facio
  2. Andi Suraidah Bandy
  3. Andrew Khoo
  4. Carlson Chew
  5. Dian Abdullah
  6. Dumiso Gatsha
  7. Joseph Hamzah Anwar
  8. Gan Yu Lin
  9. Ho Yock Lin
  10. Low Chia Ming
  11. Marisa Paredes
  12. Nathaniel Tan
  13. S Arutchelvan
  14. Siah Kwong Liang
  15. Tan Cheng Siong
  16. William Nicholas Gomes
  17. Yu Ren Chung
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Thanks for dropping by! The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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loyal malaysian
loyal malaysian
23 Jul 2020 6.26am

Freedom to inform those who wants to know the truth of the migrant workers issue in our country.
This backdoor government is lashing out because the documentary shows its hypocrisy in the treatment of the migrant workers .

Naim
Naim
22 Jul 2020 8.07am

Freedom to mislead?