Australia 'deeply concerned' over arrest of two journalists in Sarawak

Camera operator Louie Eroglu and reporter Linton Besser (in dark glasses) were arrested in Sarawak last Saturday night, after attempting to question Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak over corruption allegations.
Camera operator Louie Eroglu and reporter Linton Besser (in dark glasses) were arrested in Sarawak last Saturday night, after attempting to question Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak over corruption allegations.PHOTO: SALLY NEIGHBOUR/ TWITTER

CANBERRA • Australia is deeply concerned over the arrest of two Australian journalists in Malaysia after they attempted to question Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak over corruption allegations, said Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.

The journalists from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's (ABC) flagship investigative journalism programme, Four Corners, were arrested in the Borneo state of Sarawak last Saturday night, after approaching Datuk Seri Najib outside a mosque and asking him why hundreds of millions of dollars had been deposited into his bank account.

Malaysian police said in a statement that the pair were arrested for failing to comply with police instructions not to cross a security line.

The pair, reporter Linton Besser and camera operator Louie Eroglu, were released on bail on Sunday but remain barred from leaving Malaysia. They were told yesterday they will likely be charged with obstructing a public servant in the discharge of his duties, reported ABC. The offence carries a maximum penalty of a RM10,000 (S$3,300) fine and a two-year jail term.

Ms Bishop told ABC radio that Australia was "deeply concerned". "We are providing consular support to the ABC crew and certainly raising this issue at the appropriate level with the Malaysian government."

Mr Najib has faced sustained pressure to resign since the middle of last year, over allegations of corruption linked to the debt-laden state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), and deposits into his private accounts worth around US$680 million (S$935 million).

He has denied any wrongdoing and maintains he did not use the funds for personal gain. Malaysia's Attorney-General closed all investigations into Mr Najib last month.

The government has also cracked down on media groups that published critical reports on the 1MDB scandal. Last month, it blocked The Malaysian Insider news portal.

ABC news director Gaven Morris said the duo did not "obstruct or intend to obstruct any public servants in performance of their duties". "They did not see a police line and do not believe they crossed one."

Former Malaysian leader Mahathir Mohamad cranked up pressure on Mr Najib to quit earlier this month, marking a seismic political shift by joining hands with longstanding foes.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 15, 2016, with the headline 'Australia 'deeply concerned' over arrest of two journalists in Sarawak'. Print Edition | Subscribe