No charges as Malaysia deports Australian journalists

Two Australian journalists who were detained in Malaysia after trying to question Prime Minister Najib Razak about multiple scandals swirling around him were deported on Tuesday.

Reporter Linton Besser and camera operator Louie Eroglu flew out of the Malaysian city of Kuching bound for Singapore, attorney Albert Tang said.

The two men, investigative journalists from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), had been ordered to appear in court on Tuesday morning, facing possible charges for obstructing a public servant.

But the appearance was abruptly cancelled and they were informed there would be no charges, Tang and ABC said.

“Obviously, they are relieved,” Tang told AFP.

Speaking at Kuching’s airport, Besser told reporters it had been a “roller coaster few days” but declined further comment as the pair hurried to board their flight.

Besser and Eroglu were detained overnight Saturday after they crossed a security line and “aggressively tried to approach the prime minister”, Malaysian police said.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop on Monday had expressed concern at their detention, saying journalists should be allowed to work unhindered.

ABC denies the obstruction accusation and has said the reporters were unaware of any police line.

“They did nothing wrong in Kuching. They were doing journalism,” ABC News director Gaven Morris said in a statement Tuesday, adding he was “very glad and relieved” at the outcome.

“This incident has demonstrated again why it is vital to defend media freedom, including the right to question authority.”

Najib’s government, however, has been waging a months-long campaign to contain the damage from scandals dogging him, which the journalist pair was in Malaysia to report on.

These include the murky 2006 murder of a Mongolian woman by two of his bodyguards, who have been sentenced to death over the killing.

Government critics have long alleged that the bodyguards, members of a police unit that protects top ministers, were scapegoats in the killing of Altantuya Shaariibuu.

She was at the centre of alleged huge kickbacks in the $1.1 billion 2002 purchase of French submarines, when Najib was defence minister.

Najib, 62, denies involvement in the affair.

He also is currently battling separate accusations that billions of dollars were stolen from a state-owned fund he founded, and over his own admitted acceptance of a mysterious $681 million overseas payment.

Besser tried to question Najib on Saturday night during a visit to a mosque in Kuching, which is on Borneo island.

Najib and the state firm deny any wrongdoing, but he has moved to curb investigations and purge ruling-party critics over the financial scandals, and his government has pressured media outlets reporting on them.

Source: AFP