The documentary highlights the alleged harsh treatment of migrants during the COVID-19 lockdown and shows raids of migrants handcuffed together while they waited for their documents to be verified, the raids have been widely reported by other media.
Malaysian officials and state television have criticised the documentary as being inaccurate, misleading and unfair, which Al Jazeera strongly refutes.
On July 5, the Malay Mail reported that Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Adham Baba said allegations of discrimination were “incorrect” and “the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988 was to combat COVID-19 for all”.
Senior Minister for Security and Minister of Defence Ismail Sabri Yaakob called for Al Jazeera to stop screening the documentary and apologise to the Malaysian people, local outlet Bernama reported.
“Al Jazeera did not wish to know the facts and maliciously accused us of being racist, which is also untrue,” he was quoted as saying.
Al Jazeera said the documentary contained views of a wide range of people from different backgrounds and acknowledged the government’s COVID-19 response had contained the spread of the virus. As of Friday, the country had recorded 8683 confirmed cases and 121 deaths.
“The episode does not contain the personal opinions of any Al Jazeera staff,” the broadcaster’s statement said.
Al Jazeera said it repeatedly sought the government’s view by requesting interviews, but they were denied. Comments made by the minister at two press conferences were used in the documentary to provide balance, despite producers being told they couldn’t attend.
“Charging journalists for doing their jobs is not the action of a democracy that values free speech. Journalism is not a crime,” Al Jazeera said.
The broadcaster has also expressed concern for the safety of staff, who have been harassed online. It said death threats have been made against journalists and interviewees have been harassed online.
“People should feel free to speak with the media and express their views without the fear that they could be targeted,” the statement said.
Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director Phil Robertson said Malaysian authorities were increasingly responding to criticism of the government by initiating criminal investigations.
“Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin should recognise that everyone has a right to criticise their government without fear of investigation or prosecution,” Mr Robertson said.
According to the IFJ, since March there have been 19 instances of authorities enforcing the act to intimidate media workers and freedom of expression advocates.
This includes intimidation of online news portal Malaysiakini and its editor Steven Gan. The Attorney-General has filed contempt proceedings against them based on comments posted by the outlet’s readers. The court will hear arguments on the case on July 13.
“Since the new government took office, freedom of speech and the press have faced renewed threats in Malaysia,” Mr Roberston said.
The Australian Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance has written to the High Commission of Malaysia urging it to fulfil its obligations under the UN General Assembly resolution to do its “utmost to prevent violence, threats and attacks targeting journalist and media”.
Al Jazeera English has offered to host a representative of the Malaysian government to respond to the matters raised in the documentary.
Nicole Precel is a journalist and audio video producer at The Age. She is also a documentary maker.