Below is a STATEMENT I received on the brief detention of journalists who went to Sabah to cover the stand-off between followers of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III and Malaysian authorities. The producer, Jamela Alindogan, is a fellow member of the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP).
Sabah is one issue that all Filipinos should familiarize themselves with. It is unfinished business with Malaysia. The rightful claimants to Sabah – the Royal Sultanate of Sulu, their descendants and followers – are fellow Filipinos who have been crying out for justice all these years. More than 50 years ago, they entrusted the Philippine government to pursue their rightful claim.
As soon as time permits, I will be posting documents, interviews and what I know about Sabah.
I have not forgotten, though, my promise to post my Part 3 on the controversial and possibly unconstitutional amendments to the Intellectual Property Code.
Meanwhile, I’d like to share with you what happened to the Al-Jazeera news crew:
On February 19th, 2013, an Aljazeera news crew comprising of Senior Asia Correspondent, Steve Chao, Producer Jamela Alindogen and cameraperson, Mark Giddens were deployed to Sabah, Malaysia to report on the standoff between an armed group calling itself the “Royal Sulu Army” and the Malaysian authorities.
The crew arrived in the village of Tanjung Labian early on the morning of February 20 and enlisted the help of local villagers to take them by boat to investigate the security situation.
Less than a kilometer away from Tanjung Labian, a police patrol vessel intercepted the boat and ordered it to stop. The Al Jazeera crew were then told they could not go any further, and that they would need to be questioned at a local police station in Tanjung Labian. Authorities refused to say why the news team was being questioned, only that we were not allowed in the area, and that superiors had given the order. The crew was also detained.
The time was 7:30am.
From the police station, Al Jazeera’s news crew was then taken in a police lorry for questioning at another police station about half an hour drive from the village.
Correspondent Steve Chao was told that they would have to be interviewed by Malaysia’s Special Branch, as the Prime Minister’s office was overseeing the situation in the area, which they described as sensitive.
All three were questioned, sometimes together but also separately.
During questioning, Al Jazeera’s producer, who is based in Manila for Al Jazeera, was accused several times of working for the Sultanate Sulu Army, despite showing the authorities her ID, which clearly identified her as a staff member of Al Jazeera English Network.
Those in charge of questioning were not in uniform and declined to provide their full names or rank. They were at all times polite. When asked, they acknowledged that Al Jazeera had broken no laws and that when intercepted, the boat was far from the no-go security zone.
When asked where the security zone began, authorities refused to answer, saying they were not allowed to provide that information.
They said no media, domestic or international, would be allowed in the area because of safety concerns and the risk that journalists might “disrupt political negotiations” with the Sulu Sultanate army.
They reiterated that this was a “sensitive political situation”.
At all times Al Jazeera’s news team cooperated with authorities.
When asked why they were being detained for so long if they had not broken any laws, the authorities apologized, but said they were following procedures and instructions.
After approximately six hours, Al Jazeera’s news team was released.
Al Jazeera’s mandate is to report factually on any events of public concern. The channel has always encouraged authorities to provide the necessary journalistic space to allow for equal, balanced, and factual reporting in order to serve the public interest.
At the same time, Al Jazeera has always attempted to abide by the rules of the respective countries in which it operates.
For further reference, the report filed by our news team following their detention can be found here: