Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak should engage with independent journalists to boost his government's transparency, instead of seeing them as enemies that must be thrown behind bars, Lim Kit Siang said today.
The DAP parliamentary leader said Najib once again courted international attention with the "unnecessary" arrests of the two ABC Four Corners journalists who approached him with questions yesterday.
"The most sensible solution is to cut the losses from very clumsy mishandling of the issue," said Lim in a speech in Perlis today.
"Allow the Australian journalists to return to Australia instead of forcing them to remain in Malaysia."
He said Putrajaya should change the prime minister's public relations policy to one that prioritised openness, accountability and transparency.
"Most important of all, Najib should not regard independent and professional journalists as enemies but co-opt them in the mission to create an open and transparent and accountable world," said Lim.
The two Australian journalists, Linton Besser and Louis Eroglu, were released on police bail at 3am after their statements were recorded.
Their passports have been confiscated pending investigation and they are required to report to the police station on March 16.
They are being investigated under Section 186 of the Penal Code for obstructing a public servant in discharge of public function.
Meanwhile, Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) urged Malaysian authorities to return the passports of the journalists and end all harassment against media personnel.
The group said the duo's arrests were shocking and unacceptable as they were merely performing their role in reporting and questioning people in power.
"Rather than evade their questions, the prime minister should have answered them like any other responsible and democratically elected leader," LFL executive director Eric Paulsen said in a statement.
"Instead, the authorities in a show of force like other authoritarian states like China, Turkey and Egypt have detained these journalists.
"Such high-handed behaviour unfortunately sends a chilling message to the press to self-censor on issues such as corruption and the prime minister or else they may invite retaliation."
He reminded authorities that journalism was not a crime, and press freedom was a vital part of democracy as a form of check and balance against government excesses.
"This is a most serious assault on democracy and freedom of the press as even now foreign journalists who have had some measure of protection are not immune from being targeted by the authorities," said Paulsen.
Sarawak CID chief Dev Kumar M. M. Sree Shunmugan said the Australian journalists had crossed the security line and aggressively tried to approach Najib.
“Both of them were subsequently arrested for failing to comply with police instructions not to cross the security line,” he said in a press statement today.
The journalists arrived in Malaysia on March 5 and reached Kuching on March 12 to cover Najib’s official visit to Sarawak. – March 13, 2016.