Updated at 5:40 p.m. ET on 2020-08-21
A Bangladeshi migrant landed in Dhaka on Saturday after being expelled from Malaysia, which had detained for almost a month without charge following his appearance in a news documentary in which he spoke out about the alleged mistreatment of foreign workers by local authorities.
Rayhan Kabir, 25, was reunited with his family after his Malaysia Airlines flight from Kuala Lumpur arrived at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport at around 12:55 a.m. (local time), his father said.
“I have got my son back. Rayhan Kabir is with me,” Shah Alam told BenarNews.
Several hours earlier, Malaysian authorities had escorted the handcuffed Rayhan from an immigration detention center to the main international airport in Kuala Lumpur, where they put him onto the late-night flight to the Bangladeshi capital.
Rayhan had been in the custody of immigration department officials in the wake of his arrest on July 24, three weeks after he appeared in an Al Jazeera TV documentary which sparked public anger.
Malaysia’s government blacklisted him as “unwanted” after the Qatar-based network aired its documentary, which featured some soundbites of him talking about a roundup of undocumented migrants during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in Malaysia. But Malaysian officials never said that his arrest and incarceration were linked to what he had said in the documentary.
On Friday night, his father was eagerly awaiting Rayhan’s arrival.
“We are happy that finally my son is coming back,” he told BenarNews. “I thank the Malaysian government for sending him back and treating him well. My son has not committed any crime. We and him suffered for telling the truth.”
Earlier on Friday, Khairul Dzaimee Daud, the director-general of Malaysia’s Immigration Department, issued a short statement confirming that Rayhan would be deported within hours.
“A COVID-19 test was also conducted on Rayhan and the result was negative. The Bangladesh Embassy managed to secure the ticket late Wednesday,” a Malaysian immigration source told BenarNews, adding that Rayhan was to be deported earlier than the initial plan of Aug. 31 because his remand order had expired. The source requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters on behalf of the department.
‘A trap for us’
The immigrant’s life took a drastic turn after Rayhan was featured in the 25-minute Al Jazeera documentary on July 3. The documentary alleged that the government, under the guise of providing aid and COVID-19 tests to migrants, instead handcuffed those without proper documentation and sent them to detention centers.
“They made a trap for us. They may give food, they give medication. All these things they give,” Rayhan told a reporter in the documentary titled “Locked Up in Malaysia’s Lockdown.”
In the documentary, he is also seen trying to visit a friend in detention and talking to a lawyer about how to help him.
“No one is expecting they are going to arrest people. They’re not murderers. They’re not criminals. They’re just undocumented,” Rayhan told an Al Jazeera reporter.
The Malaysian government called Rayhan’s allegations “baseless,” saying the documentary was likely to tarnish the country’s image. That led to an investigation launched against Al Jazeera and a manhunt for Rayhan.
Immigration officials released his address to the public, leading to a surge of threats against him on social media.
“Under the Immigration Act 1959/63, the Immigration director-general … can take action on any foreigner whom they feel is unwanted in our country,” Home Minister Hamzah Zainuddin told parliament in early August, as he responded to an MP’s question about why Rayhan had been detained.
“We can send back anyone who is unwanted. He is unwanted,” he said.
On Aug. 6, Criminal Investigation Department director Huzir Mohamad announced that federal police had completed their investigation against Rayhan and forwarded the investigation papers to the Attorney-General’s Chambers. Authorities have said that Rayhan was detained over violating his work permit and not because of his comments in the documentary.
Two days earlier, police together with officers from the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission raided Al Jazeera’s office in Kuala Lumpur and two local broadcast stations where they removed equipment for analysis.
The raids were tied into a potential sedition and defamation case against Al Jazeera, officials said at the time.
On Friday in Dhaka, Imran Ahmad, the Bangladesh minister in charge of expatriates’ welfare, praised efforts by the Malaysian government to keep him and other officials informed about Rayhan’s case.
“With his safe and respectful return, this issue finally comes to an end. You media created hype about this issue,” Ahmad told BenarNews.
“Bangladesh-Malaysia relations have been excellent. The Rayhan Kabir issue will in no way harm the bilateral relations between the two countries,” he said.
No criminal charge against Rayhan
Lawyers appointed by Rayhan’s family to represent him in Malaysia said their client was deported because he was considered an undocumented migrant after his work visa was revoked, adding he did not face any criminal charges.
“His work permit was revoked because it was issued for him to work at a construction company, but in reality, he worked with a production company so he has violated the terms of his work permit,” lawyers Sumitha Shaanthinni Kishna and C.R. Selva said. The production company, which was not Al Jazeera, was involved in producing entertainment content such as films and music videos, they said.
“[W]ith the revocation, Rayhan is considered undocumented. He cannot be in Malaysia,” the lawyers said in a statement.
Shariful Hasan, the migration unit leader of the NGO Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC), said his organization would support Rayhan after he returned home.
“By breaking the silence, Rayhan Kabir has become the voice of all migrant workers under oppression in Malaysia. He did not commit any crime – talking to media is not a crime,” Hasan told BenarNews.
“Respectful deportation of Rayhan Kabir is a victory for truth,” he said.