Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia - The Malaysian government has again come under fierce criticism after detaining two Australian journalists who tried to question Prime Minister Najib Razak about alleged mass corruption.
Reporter Linton Besser and cameraman Louie Eroglu, who work for ABC television's Four Corners show, tried to approach Najib at a mosque in Kuching on Saturday, but were arrested for allegedly breaching his security in an aggressive manner.
Police Inspector General Khalid Abu Bakar said the Australian journalists' action was improper as the
prime minister was not giving an interview or media conference. The two were released on bail on Sunday but ordered not to leave the country.
Speaking to Al Jazeera on Monday, their lawyer Albert Tang said: "My clients did not see any security line and they did not hear any instruction not to cross a so-called line."
Tang said police submitted a report to the deputy public prosecutor who will consider criminal charges.
Human rights groups attacked the move as yet another example of an ongoing crackdown on free speech in Malaysia.
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"The arrest is another kick in the teeth for freedom of the press in Malaysia, and shows the incredible lengths that the authorities are prepared to go to to protect Prime Minister Najib from any sort of hard questions about his actions," said Phil Robertson, of Human Rights Watch.
Rights group lawyers for Liberty also criticised the arrests. Executive Director Eric Paulsen said the detentions were shocking and unacceptable.
"Such high-handed behaviour unfortunately sends a chilling message to the press to self-censor on issues such as corruption and the prime minister."
While this is the first such action involving foreign journalists, it follows a widening crackdown on any reporting related to the prime minister and the indebted state investment fund 1MDB, and $681m found deposited in a private bank account of Najib.
The figure was said to be a donation from the Saudi Royal Family.
Malaysian websites The Sarawak Report and The Malaysian Insider have been blocked on local servers, along with the regional news portal Asia Sentinel, for their reporting on the scandals.
The Edge also had its publishing licence suspended for several months last year.
Robyn Choi, secretary-general of the National Human Rights Society (HAKAM), also denounced the journalists' treatment.
"HAKAM is appalled at the arrest and detention of the Australian journalists and the confiscation of their passports," she said.
"Although HAKAM has been made to understand that the passports have been returned, this is still a total violation of the rights of journalists to investigate and report and to ask tough questions to arrive at the truth."
| 101 East - Malaysia: Crackdown on Freedom
Source: Al Jazeera