They are being investigated for alleged defamation, sedition and violation of the country’s Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA) for the 25-minute documentary Locked Up in Malaysia’ Lockdown, which aired on July 3. Sedition can hold a jail term of up to seven years in Malaysia.
The documentary highlights the alleged harsh treatment and raids of migrants during the COVID-19 lockdown, the raids have been widely reported by other media.
“This is undermining the stability of Malaysian democracy. When you see media being attacked in this way – when they are being accused of sedition – of effectively trying to destabilise the state, that’s when you know the democratic system itself is coming under attack,” Greste told the ABC’s 7.30.
Human rights groups have raised concerns over crackdowns on media freedom under Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s government, which came to power in March.
Greste said the Australian government needed to be advocating to protect press freedom across the region.
“I think this is a real problem for Australia. If we see democracies unravel across the region, we know that instability soon follows and that is not in Australia’s interest,” he said.
“So we need the government to be stepping up, to be calling this out and to be emphasising that press freedom is essential across the region.”
The journalists continue to receive death threats and have had pictures of their faces and attempts at distributing their personal information online.
Al Jazeera managing director Giles Trendle said all precautions were being taken to ensure their safety.
Police raids on homes or offices of the journalists were a possibility, Trendle said.
“There was a request for unedited footage. We feel the investigation is about the program itself, what was shown on screen, and obviously there is an ethical principle of journalism in that you don’t reveal your sources, so we didn’t hand over the unedited the footage,” he said.
“That’s a basic principle of ethical journalism that we adhere to and uphold the protection of sources.”
He said Al Jazeera strongly refuted all allegations that their journalism was in any way criminal, wrong, misleading or unbalanced.
Al Jazeera has had a media hub in Kuala Lumpur since 2006, and uses it as a base to report on the Asian region.
“We think it’s good for Malaysia to reinforce its image as a global media hub, so we hope the country and the authorities understand the importance of allowing journalists to operate freely in their country,” Trendle said.
A Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesperson said it was providing assistance in accordance with the Consular Services Charter to a number of Australians in Kuala Lumpur, but could not provide further comment due to privacy obligations.
Nicole Precel is a journalist and audio video producer at The Age. She is also a documentary maker.