This statement was originally published on cij.malaysia.net on 8 July 2020.
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 a 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. To make matters worse, the Immigration Department yesterday 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 underpins 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.
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 rhetorics 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, and;
- 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 reinforce the increasing measures to silence dissent or opinions that places the ruling regime in an unfavourable light.
8 July 2020
Issued by the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) Malaysia
Endorsed by the following CSOs:
6. EMPOWER Malaysia
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
19. Persatuan Penduduk Galing Besar Kuantan
20. Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor (PSWS)
21. Pertubuhan Solidariti Hijau Kuantan
22. PLUHO, People Like Us Hang Out
23. Projek Wawasan Rakyat (POWR)
26. Sisters in Islam (SIS)
27. Society for the Promotion of Human Rights (PROHAM)
28. Student Unity Front UKM
Endorsed by the following individuals:
1. Alda M. Facio
3. Andrew Khoo
4. Carlson Chew
5. Dian Abdullah
6. Dumiso Gatsha
7. Joseph Hamzah Anwar
8. Gan Yu Lin
9. Ho Yock Lin
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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Source: MEDIA FEED