Crack Down Over Al Jazeera Documentary: A Troubling Trend

Activists raise concern over Malaysian government’s attacks on press freedom.
Monday 10 August 2020
Al Jazeera’s documentary, titled “Locked up in Malaysia’s Lockdown”, sparked a national uproar over its criticism of how Malaysia’s migrant workers were treated during the coronavirus epidemic. Photo : AFP

Malaysian authorities have recently refused to renew the work visas of two Australian journalists working for Qatar-based network Al Jazeera, adding to an apparent clampdown on press freedoms that has taken place since Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin took office in March.

Al-Jazeera English managing director Giles Trendle said on Thursday that Malaysia had refused to renew the work visas of staff members Drew Ambrose and Jenni Henderson. This comes just days after police raided the network’s Kuala Lumpur office on Tuesday (4 August), as well as broadcasting stations Astro and UnifiTV. 


The raid was part of a police investigation over the network’s Locked up in Malaysia’s Lockdown programme. Released on 3 July, the documentary sparked a national uproar over its criticism of how Malaysia’s migrant workers were treated during the coronavirus epidemic.

Malaysia has a large immigrant population, as thousands travel here from poorer countries in search of better work prospects.

Other organisations have not been spared from the government’s embarrassment over publicity surrounding its treatment of migrants. Astro was recently fined for airing an Al Jazeera documentary about the 2006 murder of Mongolian woman Altantuya Shaariibuu – five years after its airing in 2015.



Police also questioned Heidy Quah, the director of local NGO Refuge for the Refugees, about a social media post alleging mistreatment of refugees at immigration detention centres.

Tashny Sukumaran, a Malaysian reporter for the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post, was also questioned under Malaysia’s Penal Code and Communications Act about her reporting on migrant arrests. The article she wrote had detailed how Malaysia’s civil defence, police and immigration forces raided three buildings in the nation’s capital in an operation to test for COVID-19, and arrested hundreds of undocumented foreign workers. 


No good faith in investigations, says activists

Al Jazeera reporter/senior producer Drew Ambrose (left), executive producer Sharon Roobol (third right) and cameraman Craig Hansen (second right) at the Bukit Aman police headquarters in July. Photo: AFP


Activists have called the investigation a “troubling escalation” of purported government attacks on media freedom in Malaysia. Article 19’s Matthew Bugher said the relentless investigation of Al Jazeera seemed to be “driven by a desire to punish journalists who aired Malaysia’s dirty laundry, rather than a good-faith application of the law”. 

“The government should investigate the serious human rights violations shown in the film instead of targeting the filmmakers,” said Bugher, who heads the British NGO’s Asian programme.

Malaysia’s administration, however, defended its recent actions against Al Jazeera, with Inspector-General of Police Abdul Hamid Bador saying in an interview on Wednesday that the investigation was being carried out “very professionally”. Foreign Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein also said that the raid had not affected the nation’s bilateral ties with other countries. 

“We have not received any report on the act (of raiding the Al Jazeera office). It has not affected our ties with any country,” said Hishammuddin in his ministerial reply during the debate on the Royal address on Wednesday.

The National Film Development Corporation Malaysia also said that Al Jazeera did not have the necessary licence to film or air its documentary.