Cease the harassment and unconditionally release both Australian journalists
13 March 2016
Lawyers for Liberty views with extreme concern the arrest of Australian journalist Linton Besser and camera operator Louis Eroglu from the ABC Four Corners current affairs show last night in Kuching, Sarawak. Although both of them have been released, their passports were seized and they are unable to leave the country.
The journalists were arrested when they attempted to question Prime Minister Najib Razak on his massive corruption scandals. They were accused of obstructing a public servant in the discharge of his public functions when they allegedly breached a police security line and “aggressively approaching” the Prime Minister.
These arrests are shocking and unacceptable to say the least as the journalists were merely performing their role in reporting and questioning people in power. Rather than evading their questions, the Prime Minister should have answered them like any other responsible and democratically elected leader. Instead, the authorities in a show of force like other authoritarian states like China, Turkey and Egypt have detained these journalists. Such high handed behaviour unfortunately sends a chilling message to the press to self-censor on issues such as corruption and the Prime Minister or else they may invite retaliation.
This is a most serious assault on democracy and freedom of the press as even now foreign journalists who have had some measure of protection are not immune from being targeted by the authorities.
Seen in light of the hundreds of arrests since 2015 against opposition elected representatives, politicians, activists, lawyers; harassment against independent press like The Edge, The Malaysian Insider, Malaysiakini, Sarawak Report and other blogs, and now the arrest of foreign journalists, Malaysia is clearly sliding into a totalitarian state reminiscent of the darkest days of Operation Lalang.
The authorities must be reminded that journalism is not a crime. Press freedom is an indispensable component of any modern and democratic society as it functions as a form of check and balance against government excesses. We call upon the authorities to immediately and unconditionally release both journalists, return their passports and cease the harassment of all journalists.
Lawyers for Liberty
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