Australia in contact with Malaysia over detention of two journalists in Kuching

Reporter Linton Besser (pictured) and camera operator Louie Eroglu were arrested in Kuching on Saturday.
Reporter Linton Besser (pictured) and camera operator Louie Eroglu were arrested in Kuching on Saturday.PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM YOUTUBE VIDEO

CANBERRA/KUALA LUMPUR - Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said on Monday (March 14) that the government has contacted Malaysia over the detention of two Australian journalists in Kuching city who attempted to interview Prime Minister Najib Razak over graft allegations.

Ms Bishop told Nine Network television that how the journalists were treated "are matters that we are raising with the Malaysian authorities", Associated Press reported.

She was quoted as saying that "Australia supports freedom of speech" and will "make representations at the highest levels within the Malaysian government."

Reporter Linton Besser and camera operator Louie Eroglu were arrested in Kuching on Saturday after they crossed a "security line and aggressively tried to approach the prime minister" who was visiting a mosque in Kuching city on Borneo island, Agence France Presse (AFP) reported, citing a police statement.

"Both of them were subsequently arrested for failing to comply with police instructions not to cross the security line," it said.

The journalists work for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's (ABC) Four Corners investigative programme.

"ABC 4Corners team arrested in Malaysia last night (Saturday) after trying to question PM Najib Razak over corruption scandal," the programme's executive producer Sally Neighbour tweeted on Sunday.

Mr Najib has been under fire over allegations that billions of dollars were stolen from a state firm, 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), which he founded, and the deposit of US$681 million (S$936 million) in his personal account.

ABC said on Monday that the two journalists were detained for six hours and told to remain in Kuching while authorities decide whether they should be charged.

"We will discuss with the Attorney General's Chambers (whether) to charge them," national police chief Khalid Abu Bakar was quoted as saying by Bernama news agency.

"Police are responsible for the prime minister's security. So we do not want anything unto

happening to him," he added.

On Saturday, Mr Besser was at a tense press conference asking questions relating to the 2006 murder of a Mongolian interpreter Altantuya Shaariibuu, as seen in video footage posted by The Star news website.

Two of Mr Najib's bodyguards were convicted of the murder and sentenced to death. Mr Najib, who was defence minister at the time, has strongly denied any involvement in the murder and has said he did not know the woman, AFP reported.

But government critics have long alleged that the two bodyguards, members of an elite unit that guards top ministers, were scapegoats in the killing of Ms Altantuya, who was at the centre of allegations of massive kickbacks in the US$1.1 billion 2002 purchase of French Scorpene submarines.