Nothing Rayhan said 'even remotely in breach of Malaysian laws', says legal rights group.

Malaysian human rights advocacy group Lawyers for Liberty have released a statement

expressing grave concern over the arrest of Bangladeshi national Md Rayhan Kabir by the Immigration Department, saying the authorities must stop their unlawful harassment of him.

Such drastic measures by the authorities is 'unwarranted' as they have thus far failed to explain what offence Rayhan has committed, said a statement issued by LFL signed by Zaid Malek, coordinator of the LFL.

Mohammad Rayhan Kabir was arrested in Malaysia on Friday following a 2-week manhunt, for speaking out on discrimination faced by undocumented migrant workers at the hands of the authorities during the COVID-19 lockdown, in a documentary broadcast by Qatar-based Al Jazeera.

Rayhan specifically spoke on the experiences of his friend and fellow Bangladeshi who was undocumented. He himself possessed a valid work permit, till it was revoked following the airing of the documentary.

Soon after his arrest, the Director General of Immigration, Datuk Khairul Dzaimee Daud stated that Rayhan will be deported and blacklisted from entering Malaysia forever.

Clearly, the action by the authorities is a form of retaliation over the allegations of discrimination made by Rayhan in the Al Jazeera documentary.

"We have scrutinised the statement made by Rayhan in the documentary and firmly restate that he has not said anything even remotely in breach of the country's laws," said the statement.

Rayhan was only venting his frustrations and concerns regarding the crackdown by the authorities on the migrant community during the Movement Control Order. Similar complaints have been made by local activists and NGOs. There is no justifiable reason why the authorities must resort to such punitive measures against Rayhan for his statements, it further added.

"We reiterate that the revocation of Rayhan's permit is in breach of section 9(1)(c) of the Immigration Act 1959/63 and his deportation for being undocumented thus cannot stand."

"The persecution of Rayhan sends a chilling message to migrants to not speak out or report abuse by the authorities, lest they suffer the same fate. We must not allow the authorities to act in flagrant disregard of the law. We urgently call on the government and the authorities to halt all actions against Rayhan."

Two lawyers, Sumita Shaanthinni Kishna and Selvaraja Chinniah, told the media they had been appointed to represent Rayhan and had written to the police to be allowed to meet their client. "We will be at Bukit Aman on Monday," they said, using the popular term for the headquarters of the Malaysian police.

Bangladeshi authorities have thus far remained silent over the issue, and as yet there is no word on whether consular access will be sought for him by the Bangladesh High Commission in Kuala Lumpur.

In the moments prior to his arrest, Rayhan had managed to send a WhatsApp message to Shariful Hasan, who heads up the Migration program over at Brac, hinting that he knew the authorities were going to nab him.

"I did not commit any crime. I did not lie. I have only talked about discrimination against the migrants. I want the dignity of migrants and my country ensured. I believe all migrants and Bangladesh will stand with me," he reportedly said.

Latest update: Lawyers fail to meet Rayhan

The lawyers for Md Rayhan Kabir, who were hoping to meet him earlier today, have reported they failed to meet their client in Putrajaya

"I was informed that my request has to go through the (Immigration Department) heads first before permission is given (to see him). An email was sent to Immigration director-general Datuk Khairul Dzaimee Daud on Sunday (July 26). We have a responsibility to his parents to inform them of their son's condition," said lawyer Selvaraja Chinniah talking to reporters outside the Immigration Department headquarters.

Selvaraja, together with fellow lawyer Sumita Shaanthinni Kishna, exited the building around 2.40pm after spending about an hour inside.

They were engaged by Md Rayhan's parents to act as his lawyers. Selvaraja added that the department assured him that they would respond to his request "as soon as possible".

Statement by Human Rights Watch

A Bangladeshi migrant worker in Malaysia faces dire consequences for speaking out about the poor treatment of migrant workers in the country. Mohamed Rayhan Kabir spoke to Al Jazeera about Malaysia's controversial roundup of undocumented migrants during the COVID-19 pandemic for a documentary entitled "Locked Up in Malaysia's Lockdown."

Shortly after the documentary aired, Malaysian authorities announced they wanted to question Kabir. They splashed his name, photo, and address across the media, putting him at risk in an environment increasingly hostile towards migrants. A few days later, in what appears to be a clear act of retaliation for his critical comments, the inspector-general of police announced that the Immigration Department had revoked Kabir's work permit.

The government's action sends a chilling message to the country's many migrant workers: If you want to stay in Malaysia, don't speak up no matter how badly you have been treated.

Immigration Director-General Khairul Dzaimee Daud made that point clearly. In a July 6 statement, he warned that foreigners on long-term passes should "be careful" when making any statements or risk losing their work permits. He added that permit holders "will be required to leave the country immediately if the statement is inaccurate and aimed at damaging Malaysia's image."

Kabir is not the only one facing consequences for criticizing the Malaysian government's treatment of migrants. On July 10, police questioned six Al Jazeera staff as part of a police investigation into whether the documentary violated any laws, including sedition and criminal defamation laws and the Communications and Multimedia Act, frequently used to curb free speech.

The police are also investigating Heidy Quah, the director of the nongovernmental organization Refuge for the Refugees, for criminal defamation and violating the Communications and Multimedia Act for a social media post she made alleging mistreatment of refugees at immigration detention centers.

These incidents and threats serve to stifle criticism of the government's treatment of migrants. Migrant communities are already in a precarious situation in Malaysia. Many migrants have lost their jobs due to the pandemic, and some are going hungry and have lost their housing. Many are also at an increased risk of contracting COVID-19 because their cramped living conditions make social distancing impossible. Malaysia should end the manhunt for Kabir, end its attacks on media freedom, and stop mistreating migrants and harassing those who defend them.

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