Australian Broadcasting Corp. television reporter Linton Besser and camera operator Louie Eroglu were arrested in the city of Kuching on Saturday after approaching Prime Minister Najib Razak on the street.
They were detained by Malaysian police for six hours and told to remain in Kuching while authorities decided whether they should be charged, ABC said.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop suggested the detention was part of a Malaysian crackdown on press freedom and said Australia was raising their case at the “highest levels within the Malaysian government.”
“I’m always concerned where there are instances of a crackdown on freedom of speech in democracies, particularly, and I’m also concerned about the freedom that journalists have to carry out their work in places around the world,” Bishop told reporters during a visit to Fiji.
The Malaysian news agency Bernama cited national police chief Khalid Abu Bakar as saying officials would discuss with Attorney-General Mohamed Apandi Ali whether to charge the pair.
Najib is engulfed in a scandal over $681 million deposited into his bank accounts in early 2013. Critics accuse him of corruption and say the money came from an indebted state investment fund which he founded in 2009.
In January, Apandi decided not to prosecute the prime minister, saying the money was a “personal donation” from the Saudi royal family.
Besser and Eroglu, on assignment for an investigative current affairs program, had asked Najib as he entered a mosque why the money had been deposited into his accounts, the ABC reported.
Najib did not respond and his security detail surrounded the two and questioned them. They were allowed to leave but were detained again as they returned to their hotel, the ABC said.
They were questioned in a police station for six hours and their passports were taken.
ABC denied police allegations that Besser and Eroglu crossed a security line and aggressively tried to approach the prime minister.
They stopped filming and left the event when they were asked to, the network said.
Their passports were returned but they were told they must remain in Kuching while the attorney-general’s office decided whether they should be charged. That decision is expected in the next several days. (Courtesy The Associated Press)