Journalists in Sabah standoff detained
Dino Balabo (The Philippine Star) - February 28, 2013 - 12:00am

MALOLOS CITY, Philippines – Journalists covering the Sabah standoff for the Doha-based Al Jazeera TV were detained and interrogated by Malaysian authorities for six hours last week.

The Al Jazeera news team composed of senior Asia correspondent Steve Chao, cameraman Mark Giddens and Filipina producer Jamela Aisha Alindogan were reportedly on their way to Lahad Datu on a boat when they were intercepted by Malaysian security forces off the village of Tanjung Labian.  

The three were escorted to a local police station and later transferred to another police station under armed escort, where Malaysian security forces interrogated them.

The detention of the three has sparked condemnation from media groups composed of the Makati-based Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), Malaysia’s Center for Independent Journalism (CIJ) and the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (Seapa) secretariat based in Bangkok.

“We view the vague restrictions imposed on journalists covering the Lahad Datu ‘political negotiation/standoff’ as an attempt at limiting journalists’ access at providing accurate, timely and fair coverage of a public interest security issue, especially given the looming elections in Malaysia,” the media groups said in a joint statement.

“It is even more important for the media to have adequate and safe access to be able to report on the situation accurately, given the impact on diplomatic relations between Philippines and Malaysia,” the statement read.

The media groups said that while they understand the national security concerns of Malaysian authorities, there was no justification for the journalists’ long hours of detention. They said the identities of the interrogators were not even revealed.

To ensure that journalists do not undermine legitimate security operations, “no go security zones” should be established, the media groups said.

Furthermore, authorities should hold press conferences periodically to make sure the media are updated on developments in the Sabah standoff.

The media groups also proposed “the setting up a committee comprising of the authorities, journalists, editors, journalist union, media advocacy groups, human rights organizations and other civil society groups, to draw up a ‘standard operating procedure’ on how security authorities should deal with the media during conflict situations, using UNESCO guidelines as the benchmark.”

Citing a statement issued by Al Jazeera on Feb. 22 as well as eyewitness accounts, the media groups said “the three were questioned for 30 minutes to two and half hours each, sometimes together but also separately.”

Alindogan, a Filipina connected with the Al Jazeera English Network office in Kuala Lumpur, was questioned the longest – for two and a half hours.  She was even accused of working for the Royal Sulu Sultanate Army.

While the journalists were generally treated well, the “interrogating officers were not in uniform and when asked, declined to provide their full names or rank.”

The statement described the three journalists as being trained in handling hostile environments.

Malaysian authorities have said the areas around Lahad Datu are off-limits to civilians and the media to ensure that the “political negotiations” with the Royal Sulu Sultanate Army proceed smoothly.

  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?
Login is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

or sign in with