8 July 2020: Lawyers for Liberty refer to the disproportionate reaction from government leaders and enforcement authorities sparked by the documentary Locked Up in Malaysia’s Lockdown released by Al Jazeera on 3 July 2020.
On 7 July, the authorities revealed that they are investigating Al Jazeera under section 500 of the Penal Code, Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act as well as Section 4(1) of the Sedition Act.
We have carefully considered the entirety of the documentary, and state that there is nothing there that warrants any criminal investigation by the authorities. Nothing highlighted in the documentary is in fact new; it merely echoes criticisms already brought forth by various NGOs and Suhakam regarding the mass arrest conducted during the movement control order. If there truly was anything that was misreported, the government could simply release their own statements to refute any inaccuracies.
Instead, the authorities appear to be determined to stifle any criticism regarding the mass crackdown on migrants during the movement control order. Prior to the current investigations, in May 2020, journalist Tashny Sukumaran was investigated by the police under Section 504 of the Penal Code and Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act for her tweets regarding the immigration raid at Selangor Mansion.
This sort of heavy-handed response to criticism serves to threaten journalistic freedom. Freedom of the press is an important component of a democratic society. The press is the essential fourth estate in our democratic polity. It is a corollary of the freedom of expression, a fundamental right enshrined under Article 10(1)(a) of the Federal Constitution, and is therefore enshrined and protected.
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On another equally alarming note, the Immigration Department on 7 July circulated a notice seeking public information on a Bangladeshi national for an investigation under the Immigration Act. This action comes in the wake of a warning by the Immigration Department’s director general on 6 July 2020 that foreign nationals who make ‘inaccurate’ statements that damage Malaysia’s image may have their passes revoked.
The Bangladeshi man, who was featured in the Al Jazeera documentary, is now victim to a slew of inflammatory and xenophobic attacks by a segment of the public for his criticism of the government’s mass arrest of migrants during the movement control order.
We are appalled that the authorities chose to single out this individual, an action which would have the unfortunate result of further stoking the disproportionate outrage this man is currently facing. The notice by the Immigration Department, which included the full name and the last known address of the Bangladeshi man, can be construed as a state-sanctioned witch hunt which could bring untold harm to this individual.
It must be noted that the Bangladeshi’s man concerns for the condition of his friend who is currently held in the detention centre is not without reason; an Indian tourist, Zeawdeen Kadar Masdan, was reported to have died on 12 June after contracting Covid-19 while under Immigration Department detention. Thus, the decision by the immigration authorities to threaten criminal action against him or any other concerned migrants is an unacceptable response that flies in the face of the law and basic human decency.
We strongly urge the authorities to immediately cease any criminal action against the Bangladeshi man. If the authorities believe they need to respond to the criticism, they could just address it through an official statement.
The recent spate of investigations detrimental to free speech must stop. The government must uphold journalistic freedom and stop unnecessary attacks on the press.
We also urge the government to take immediate steps to de-escalate the rising xenophobic sentiments against migrants and ensure they are treated with dignity and respect. The government must not be tolerant of any attacks on the migrant community, a group that has been significant in contributing to the growth of the nation.
13 July: Work permit of Bangladeshi man interviewed by Al Jazeera unlawfully revoked
We view with grave concern the revelation on 12 July by the inspector general of police that the Immigration Department has revoked the work permit of the Bangladeshi man interviewed by Al Jazeera in the highly controversial documentary Locked Up in Malaysia’s Lockdown.
The extent the authorities are willing to go to in order to hunt down one man for merely speaking up on his experience of injustice to the media is alarming. Through no fault of his own, the man has now been rendered undocumented by the authorities.
The revocation of the Bangladeshi man’s permit is a blatant abuse of power and flouting of the law by the Immigration Department. Section 9(1)(c) of the Immigration Act 1959/63 only allows the director general of immigration to cancel a permit if it is prejudicial to public order, public security, public health or morality in Malaysia.
It is inconceivable that the mere action of highlighting his plight to the media would fall under any of the categories listed under Section 9(1)(c). It seems as if the Immigration Department is trying to legitimise the witch hunt on this man for daring to speak out against it. This act only serves to strengthen the allegation that migrants are being unfairly treated and targeted by the authorities.
The illegitimate manhunt and persecution of this innocent man must not be allowed to continue. We demand that the authorities immediately halt their unjustified and unlawful pursuit of this man and strongly urge the government to immediately step in and stop this clear abuse of power by the authorities.
Zaid Malek is coordinator of Lawyers for Liberty