PETALING JAYA: The authorities’ move to go public with the personal details of a Bangladeshi worker wanted for speaking up on alleged mistreatment by immigration officers has sparked a fresh round of xenophobic and anti-migrant comments on the department’s Facebook page, prompting criticism from rights lawyers.
A check on the immigration’s Facebook showed thousands of comments from users, many of whom advocated violence against Md Rayhan Kabir, a migrant who was interviewed in a controversial documentary produced by Al Jazeera.
“If you see him, slap him once or twice,” wrote Facebook user Hertonnye Linggom, in response to a mugshot of Rayhan posted on the immigration’s Facebook page.
“Let us Malaysians together help to locate him. It won’t take long to succeed. Don’t forget, use a wire, not a rope, to tie him,” said another user, Ku Lim Ku.
Rayhan, 25, attracted the authorities’ attention after he appeared on an episode of Al Jazeera’s 101 East programme on the alleged mistreatment of migrants during the recent lockdown.
“They made a trap for us. They may give food, they give medication. All these things they give. So, no one is expecting they’re going to arrest people,” Rayhan said in the report titled “Locked up in Malaysia’s Lockdown”, which focuses on the government’s treatment of migrants under the movement control order (MCO) to contain the Covid-19 pandemic.
“They’re not murderers. They’re not criminals. They’re just undocumented,” Rayhan had said in the 25-minute episode.
The programme has since led to a sedition investigation by Malaysian police on the Qatar-based news channel.
Activists said Rayhan could now be a target of reprisal attacks despite having committed no crime warranting a nationwide witch-hunt.
Bangkok-based John Quinley of human rights group Fortify Rights said Rayhan had only spoken up about the problems many migrants and refugees face in immigration detention centres.
“The Malaysian government should not target individuals who speak to the media about the vulnerabilities migrants face in the country,” Quinley told FMT.
He described the authorities’ response to Rayhan’s remarks as “an act of intimidation”.
“Instead of intimidating migrants, the government should protect them.”
On Tuesday, pictures of Rayhan were splashed on several news websites alongside the details of his Bangladeshi passport which were released to the media by the immigration department.
Authorities said Rayhan was wanted in an investigation under the Immigration Act 1959/63.
Hundreds of migrant workers were rounded up in Kuala Lumpur during the height of the pandemic and placed in immigration detention centres.
The government said then that the move was necessary to minimise the risk of Covid-19 among foreign workers and undocumented migrants.
A subsequent spike in the number of Covid-19 infections at detention centres however led to claims of detainees being placed in overcrowded settings, which were swiftly denied by Putrajaya.
Echoing Quinley, local rights activist Muhammad Afiq Noor said the “wanted” notice for Rayhan was uncalled for.
“The concerns he raised in the documentary are legitimate and not without basis,” he added.
He said claims in the documentary were nothing new, and had been raised by the government’s rights commission Suhakam.
“As a nation, we have a legal and religious responsibility to treat migrants with dignity and uphold their basic rights, including freedom of speech,” Afiq told FMT.
“If the immigration finds something incorrect in the documentary, just issue a statement refuting it.
“The intimidation against the press and the vulnerable migrant is unnecessary and a threat to our democracy,” he said.
Afiq, who was trained as a lawyer, however said the immigration was legally mandated to initiate investigations into offences that fall within its jurisdiction, including divulging personal details.
But he said Rayhan’s offence was unclear.
“If it is related to his criticism in the documentary, then it is not an offence under the Immigration Act.
“Why didn’t they specify the provision, and under which section of the law he was being investigated for? And why specifically this one man? Is it because he appeared in the documentary and criticised how we handled immigrants during MCO?” he asked.
He said if Rayhan’s offence was staying in the country illegally, putting up posters of him was inappropriate as it could spur xenophobia.
“I think the real concern is that the immigration department appears to be attempting to silence criticism. The action (of issuing the notice) is not necessary.”
The Bar Council’s spokesman on migrants and refugee affairs, M Ramachelvam, also said the immigration had the legal authority to investigate or summon witnesses.
He said the problem was the absence of a clear policy on migrant workers in Malaysia.
He said there was a difference between migrants who were undocumented due to certain circumstances and those who entered the country illegally.
Many became “illegal” after being cheated by employers or agents, or running away from abusive employers, he added.
“The government needs to come up with a comprehensive and holistic solution. They should come out with what has been proposed many times – an amnesty and regularisation programme, so that we overcome this problem once and for all.”
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