The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom, today condemned a Malaysian police investigation against Al Jazeera after the broadcaster aired a documentary on the plight of migrant workers in the country.

The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the Malaysian police have launched an investigation into Al Jazeera and the journalists who produced the documentary Locked Up in Malaysia’s Lockdown about the detention and ill-treatment of migrant workers in the country. The documentary was screened on July 3 in the 101 East programme on Al Jazeera English news channel.

Malaysian Defence Minister Ismail Saabri described the documentary as “deceptive and unethical” and demanded that the channel “apologise to all Malaysians.” Soon after the minister’s statement, the police launched an investigation.

According to information gathered by IPI, the CID is treating the documentary as a case of sedition and has summoned the journalists for questioning. The deputy director of CID told media that the case had been opened under Section 4(1) of the Sedition Act 1948, Section 500 of the Penal Code and Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998.

“Malaysia is trying to shoot the messenger by investigating Al Jazeera journalists who exposed the abuse of migrant workers at the hands of the authorities”, IPI Director of Advocacy Ravi R. Prasad said. “This is not just a gross violation of press freedom, but also demonstrates the growing intolerance of the Malaysian government to any kind of objective criticism. In the last few months Malaysia has started to roll back the press freedom reforms it made under the leadership of Mahathir Mohamad.”

Meanwhile, the journalists in question have been receiving online death threats and abuse. Some of the migrants and social workers who were interviewed for the documentary have also been targeted online and face physical threats, sources told IPI.

“Malaysia should end this investigation and protect press freedom as a fundamental element of democracy”, Prasad concluded.