CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Malaysian authorities will not charge two journalists from Australia's state-owned broadcaster who attempted to interview Malaysia's prime minister over corruption allegations, deciding to deport them instead, police said Tuesday.
The decision came after Australia's government intervened and suggested the detention was part of a Malaysian crackdown on press freedom.
Following the deportation orders, Australian Broadcasting Corp. television reporter Linton Besser and camera operator Louie Eroglu left Malaysia on a flight on Tuesday, ABC confirmed in an email to staff. The pair had previously been told to appear in a Sarawak state court on Tuesday morning charged with obstructing a public servant from discharging his duties when they questioned Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak as he entered a mosque in the state capital of Kuching on Saturday.
ABC reported that two hours after a press release was issued Monday confirming the charge, the lawyer for the two was told they would not be charged. The broadcaster said no explanation was given for the change.
Sarawak police said in a statement that they were told by prosecutors Tuesday that no charges would be filed. The pair was to be deported, the statement said, without giving further details.
Shortly before boarding his flight at Malaysia's Kuching International Airport, Besser said he was relieved the ordeal was behind him. "There have been a lot of changing events. It has been a roller coaster, but it's almost over," he said.
ABC's news director, Gaven Morris, said the journalists would continue to investigate the corruption story. "They did nothing wrong in Kuching. They were doing journalism," he said in a statement. "This incident has demonstrated again why it is vital to defend media freedom, including the right to question authority."
On Monday, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said the case would be raised at the "highest levels within the Malaysian government."
She said there were concerns about "a crackdown on freedom of speech."
Sarawak police said the pair were detained after they "crossed the security line and aggressively tried to approach" Prime Minister Najib, accusations that ABC denied.
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 that he founded in 2009.
In January, Malaysian Attorney General Mohamed Apandi Ali 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, ABC reported.
Najib did not respond and his security detail surrounded the two.
Associated Press writer Eileen Ng in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, contributed to this report