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Australian journalists detained in Malaysia for trying to question PM

[KUALA LUMPUR] Two Australian journalists were detained and barred from leaving Malaysia after they had tried to "aggressively" question Prime Minister Najib Razak about a corruption scandal, police said Sunday.

The duo were detained after they crossed a "security line and aggressively tried to approach the prime minister" who was visiting a mosque in Kuching on the island of Borneo, according to a police statement.

"Both of them were subsequently arrested for failing to comply with police instructions not to cross the security line," read the statement.

The journalists, who work for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Four Corners investigative programme were detained on Saturday night after the incident but were released Sunday without charge.

"ABC 4Corners team arrested in Malaysia last night after trying to question PM Najib Razak over corruption scandal," the programme's executive producer Sally Neighbour tweeted Sunday.

Reporter Linton Besser and camera operator Louie Eroglu had approached Mr Najib on the street before their arrest, the broadcaster added.

Neighbour said their passports, which were initially seized, had been returned to them but they "can't leave Malaysia".

"We will discuss with the Attorney General's Chambers (whether) to charge them," Malaysia's national police chief Khalid Abu Bakar was quoted as saying by local news agency Bernama.

"Police are responsible for the prime minister's security. So we do not want anything untoward happening to him," he said, adding that the journalists were barred from leaving the state while investigations were underway.

Footage posted online by The Star showed Besser asking questions at a tense press conference in Kuala Lumpur earlier on Saturday relating to the still-murky 2006 murder of a Mongolian woman.

Two of Mr Najib's bodyguards were convicted of the murder and sentenced to death.

PM Najib, who was defence minister at the time, has strongly denied any involvement in the murder and has said he did not know the woman.

But government critics have long alleged that the two bodyguards, members of an elite unit that guards top ministers, were scapegoats in the killing of Altantuya, who was at the centre of allegations of massive kickbacks in the US$1.1 billion 2002 purchase of French Scorpene submarines.

Mr Najib, 62, has also been under fire over allegations that billions of dollars were stolen from a state firm he founded, and over his own acceptance of a murky US$681 million overseas payment. He and the state firm have vehemently denied any wrongdoing.

In the allegation's wake, the prime minister has curbed investigations into the scandals and purged his ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) of critics, essentially shutting off internal party challenges.

Whistle-blowers have been arrested, while media outlets reporting on the allegations have been muzzled, raising concerns over rights and freedom of speech.

Leaders from across Malaysia's political spectrum joined forces on March 4 to call for the removal of the scandal-hit premier.


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