KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysian authorities said Saturday they detained a Bangladeshi man and will deport him for criticizing the government over its treatment of undocumented immigrants in a documentary by news broadcaster Al-Jazeera.
Mohamad Rayhan Kabir has been on the run after police launched an investigation in the July 3 documentary following complaints that it was inaccurate and biased. Al-Jazeera has defended its journalism.
The Immigration Department said Rayhan, 25, was arrested by its intelligence unit on Friday. The department had earlier revoked his work permit.
“This Bangladeshi national will be deported and blacklisted from entering Malaysia forever,” immigration Director-General Khairul Dzaimee Daud said in a brief statement.
The documentary, titled “Locked Up in Malaysia’s Lockdown,” investigated undocumented immigrants it said were at risk during the coronavirus pandemic. More than 2,000 migrant workers were arrested during raids in areas in Kuala Lumpur that were placed under tight virus lockdowns.
The Daily Star newspaper in Bangladesh quoted Rayhan Kabir as saying in a WhatsApp message shortly before he was arrested that he did not commit any crime.
“I did not lie. I have only talked about discrimination against the migrants. I want the dignity of migrants and my country ensured. I believe all migrants and Bangladesh will stand with me.”
Police have grilled a group of reporters and staff from Al-Jazeera and said they would submit their findings to prosecutors for further action. Authorities also said Al-Jazeera failed to apply for a license before shooting the documentary, but the broadcaster said it didn’t need one.
Al-Jazeera has called for the right to report freely without intimidation and urged Malaysia to drop the criminal investigation.
Rights activists have voiced concern over a clampdown on freedom of speech and media independence under new Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, who took power in March.
Satellite television provider Astro was recently fined by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission for airing an Al-Jazeera documentary in 2015 over the 2006 murder of a Mongolian woman that allegedly contained “offensive content.”
Former Prime Minister Najib Razak, whose long-ruling party was ousted in 2018 polls but made a comeback as part of the new government, was implicated in the murder. He is currently on trial on corruption charges.
Popular online news portal Malaysiakini and its editor face rare contempt proceedings from the attorney general over comments posted by readers against the judiciary. Police also questioned an activist about a social media post alleging mistreatment of refugees at immigration detention centers.
A journalist from the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post was also questioned earlier about her reporting on migrant arrests.