Thursday, September 19

Zahid: Arrest of Australian journalists not obstruction to press freedom

Zahid looks through the figures on the state’s crime index, as Lee (right) and Khalid look on. — Bernama photo

Zahid looks through the figures on the state’s crime index, as Lee (right) and Khalid look on. — Bernama photo

KUCHING: The arrest of two Australian journalists should not be seen as an obstruction to freedom of the press, said Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

According to him, the two journalists should have ‘followed the mould of Malaysia’s journalism ethics’ and respected the regulations of the country’s journalism ethics in terms of safety.

“The government will not stop any journalists in the country from giving coverage regarding any events, incidents or interviews with public figures. But in this case, we are looking at a situation where a VVIP should be given safety precautions.

“This is why the enforcement had to place priority in ensuring the safety of the VVIP during the incident,” he told a press conference after chairing the Malaysia Crime Prevention Foundation (MCPF) exco meeting at a hotel here yesterday.

Zahid was asked to comment on the detention of  two journalists from Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) for obstructing police during Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s visit to Kota Sentosa on Saturday.

Nevertheless, he hoped the incident would not be regarded as an obstruction for foreign journalists to carry out their duties in the country.

“I believe they are doing their best for their (Australian) media, but at the same time, they should respect the safety aspects that have been enforced by our authorities,” he said, adding that Malaysian journalists reporting outside the country must also abide by the journalism ethics and safety procedures of the country they are in.

Asked on what would be the next course of action, Zahid, who is also Home Minister, said he would leave it to the police to take the next appropriate action.

Meanwhile, Inspector General of Police Tan Sri Datuk Seri Khalid Abu Bakar said the two journalists were arrested for defying the orders of the police.

“They have crossed the line by entering the safety control zone of the Prime Minister and because of that we have arrested them,” he remarked, pointing out it was neither an interview session nor a press conference by Najib during that time.

He advised journalists, be they from local or foreign media, not to breach protocol when approaching VVIPS for their safety.

“Normally, the Prime Minister will give space for interviews. Don’t simply defy protocol. Our main duty is to protect the Prime Minister and we do not want any unforeseen circumstance to happen to him,” he reiterated.

Earlier yesterday, the State Criminal Investigation Department (CID) confirmed that the two journalists had been released on bail but the police still had to consult the State Attorney General (AGC) on the matter.

“We will discuss with AGC officers on the next appropriate action to be taken against them,” state CID chief SAC Dev Kumar said through a press statement.

Police have confirmed the arrest of two Australian citizens claiming to be from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation based in Sydney for failing to comply with police instructions.

The drama unfolded when the two allegedly tried to cross a police security line and aggressively tried to approach Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak who was making an official visit to the Darul Ehsan Mosque at Kampung Haji Baki, Kota Sentosa at 8.35pm on Saturday.

Both of them, aged 51 and 39, were subsequently arrested for failing to comply with police instructions not to cross the security line.

Checks show both of them arrived in Malaysia through Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) on March 5, arriving in Kuching on Saturday.

They were then brought to the Padawan Police District for questioning and were released on police bail earlier yesterday after their statements were recorded.

The case is investigated under Section 186 of the Penal Code for obstructing a public servant in the discharge of his public functions.

The television crew had been in Malaysia investigating allegations of corruption and bribery linked to the killing of socialite Altantuya Shaariibuu, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.