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On World Press Freedom Day, Malaysia investigates journalist over ‘provocation’


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On World Press Freedom Day, Malaysia investigates journalist over ‘provocation’

Police in Malaysia have confirmed they are investigating a journalist over her reporting on mass raids targeting migrants and refugees amid the COVID-19 pandemic.Key points:A South China Morning Post reporter was summoned to police headquarters over an article she wroteOn World Press Freedom Day, Malaysia’s Government said media must help uphold “harmony of the country”Many…

On World Press Freedom Day, Malaysia investigates journalist over ‘provocation’

Police in Malaysia have confirmed they are investigating a journalist over her reporting on mass raids targeting migrants and refugees amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Key points:

  • A South China Morning Post reporter was summoned to police headquarters over an article she wrote
  • On World Press Freedom Day, Malaysia’s Government said media must help uphold “harmony of the country”
  • Many fear freedom of speech is declining in Malaysia after Mahathir Mohamad’s resignation

Tashny Sukumaran, a correspondent for Hong Kong newspaper the South China Morning Post, said she had been summoned to the Royal Malaysian Police headquarters in Kuala Lumpur over an article she wrote last week about the raids.

A portrait of journalist Tashny Sukumaran.

Tashny Sukumaran is a correspondent for Hong Kong newspaper the South China Morning Post.(Supplied: Tashny Sukumaran)

Sukumaran says she is being investigated under section 504 of Malaysia’s penal code, which allows for up to two years’ prison for “whoever intentionally insults, and thereby gives provocation to any person, intending or knowing it to be likely that such provocation will cause [them] to break the public peace”.

Malaysia’s Communications Minister Saifuddin Abdullah said he had asked the country’s media regulator not to “act” against Sukumaran.

“I may not like [yo]ur piece but I will defend [yo]ur right to write it,” he wrote on Twitter.

Authorities rounded up more than 700 migrants, including children, last Friday amid rising public anger at foreigners during Malaysia’s coronavirus outbreak — a move slammed by rights groups.

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Amnesty International Malaysia called the arrests “an appalling violation of human rights and the persecution of an already marginalised community”, adding it was a “clear abuse of power”.

“Mass arrests being carried out in the middle of a pandemic are terrible enough, but reports of detainees being cramped into small vans, not provided masks, unable to practise social distancing is equally alarming,” Amnesty head Preethi Bhardwaj said in a statement.

Fragile freedom of the press in Malaysia

The investigation into Sukumaran’s work was confirmed on Sunday, which was World Press Freedom Day.

Mr Saifuddin released a statement declaring the Malaysian Government’s “clear commitment to press freedom”.

“In the era of 21st-century technology, the media not only play a role in disseminating transparent information, but also protecting the public from spreading false information that could threaten the stability and harmony of the country.”

A man wearing brown is walked out of a building flanked by two police officers in masks and white hazmat suits.

Sweeping arrests followed public anger against foreigners, particularly Rohingya refugees.(Reuters: Lim Huey Teng)

Malaysia saw a marked improvement in its ranking on this year’s World Press Freedom Index, jumping 22 spots to 101, after a historic election in May 2018 saw the first change of government in six decades.

Watchdog organisation Reporters Without Borders has reported “the general environment for journalists is much more relaxed, self-censorship has declined dramatically and the print media are now offering a fuller and more balanced range of viewpoints”.

People celebrate against the backdrop of the Malaysian flag.

Supporters of Mahathir Mohamad celebrate his victory in 2018.(Reuters/Stringer)

Previously blacklisted journalists and media outlets were able to “resume working without fear of harassment”, it said.

But reform appears to have been derailed by a chaotic leadership crisis in February that saw prime minister Mahathir Mohamad resign.

About 20 activists were arrested in Kuala Lumpur in March after they protested against what was seen as the undemocratic appointment of Muhyiddin Yassin as Prime Minister.

Defence Minister Ismail Sabri recently lashed out at Channel News Asia reporter Melissa Goh over her reporting about the treatment of migrants amid the Government’s handling of coronavirus, accusing her of having “bad intentions”.

A woman wearing a protective mask uses her phone in a Light Rail Transit train in KL.

Malaysia will begin to ease its so-called movement control order this week.(AP: Vincent Thian)

Malaysia enacted strict lockdown restrictions on March 18, known locally as the movement control order.

Spurred by sensationalist reporting from some local media outlets, many Malaysians have suggested in petitions and on social media that Rohingya refugees and other foreigners are not observing the country’s social-distancing arrangements.

Some Rohingya are thought to have attended in late February a religious gathering which was the source of Malaysia’s first major outbreak.

The Malaysian Prime Minister announced on Friday that from this week the country would begin lifting some of its restrictions, allowing some businesses including restaurants to reopen and for people to exercise outside.

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