Jamela Aisha Alindogan is a journalist born in the Philippines and an Al Jazeera producer who reports from Asia. She attended Far Eastern University from 2002 through 2006 and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Communications with a major in Broadcast Journalism. She worked as a news reporter for ABS-CBN for 2 years before going to work at Al Jazeera English in August of 2008.
Alindogan, based out of Manilla in the Philippines, a producer for Al Jazeera, along with Al Jazeera correspondent for Asia Steve Chao and cameraman Mark Giddens were detained and held for questioning by Malaysian special forces in Sabah on February 20th. The 3 were doing a report on the standoff between the Royal Security Forces of the Sultanate of Sulu and Malaysian authorities. According to Alindogan after she and a colleague were arrested and held by authorities in Sabah:
“We've just been released 2 hours ago after being arrested and held by the Malaysian Special Forces for 6 hours here in Sabah” said Alindogan in her Twitter account.
Correspondent Steve Chao and Alindogan were accompanied by Mark Giddens, a cameraman, who was also detained. According to her Twitter account posting @jamelaaisha. A similar message was posted on her Facebook account. This transpired after the Al Jazeera reporters went to cover the story about the followers of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, about 400 people including 20 gunmen, have been holed up in Sabah's remote coastal town of Lahad Datu. Kiram III said he was prompted to send his people to Sabah after the Philippine government left them out of the framework agreement signed in October, which only catered to the interest of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Calling themselves the Royal Sulu Army, the Philippine armed group lay claim to Malaysian state of Sabah on Borneo island.
"They came in the dead of the night. I woke up and saw armed men docking off from boats with long knives. I've never seen them before in my life," said local resident Ben Ahmid."
Together with 35 members of his family, Ahmid fled the sleepy village of Kampung Tanduo with only the clothes on his back. He said they had to leave everything behind: the home he shared with his family for decades and his livelihood. Now he says all he wants is his old life and that of his family back, but no one knows when that will happen.
The new occupiers of Kampung Tanduo say they have no plans on leaving. Calling themselves the Royal Sulu Army, they demand recognition and the right to permanently stay in Sabah. There are now about 500 of them, they say, and all are followers of the Sultanates of Sulu, who once ruled over Sabah and Northern Borneo. Sultan Raja Muda Kiram, the leader of the group, says he and his clans are the descendants of the great and brave Tausug warriors who once ruled Sabah.
He says he intends to reinstate that lost glory. The claim to retake Sabah was officially formalised by the Philippine government in the 1960s but it has been dormant since. Malaysia until now pays annual royalties to the Sultanates. Malaysian forces claim they have already cornered the group and imposed a deadline for them to head back to the Philippines voluntarily.
To see what the situation was really like on the ground, the Al Jazeera team travelled to Lahad Datu, Where they rented a small pump boat and headed out to film by the coast. As they travelled further east, Jamela noticed a small boat sailing parallel in the same directions as the boat she was in. The other boat moved in closer very quickly and by then the reporters realised it was the Malaysian Navy so they stopped their boat immediately.
"You're not allowed to sail here," they were told and within a few more minutes another Malaysian patrol boat with eight soldiers arrived.
"No need for you to come here, all is well. There is peace here," they told the Al Jazeera reporters.
Next they were asked to go to a police station, where Jamela was the first to be interrogated.
"You're a woman, what are you doing on a boat with six men? It's dangerous!" an officer declared.
Jamela simply told him she was a journalist, but she was told they thought she could be part of the Sulu Army. The ordeal lasted for several hours, and her colleagues were subjected to a similar grilling by these Malaysian authorities.
One of the Malaysian soldiers inferred that their troubles were testament to the existing paranoia over Sabah's security. That many Sabahans worry that they may come under attack by the Royal Sulu Army group anytime.
"They are amongst us, they've been here the whole time," one said.
According to a statement issued by Al Jazeera on the 22nd of February 2013 and eyewitness accounts, the three were questioned for 30 minutes to 2 1/2 hours each, sometimes together but also separately. Alindogan, a Filipina attached to the Al Jazeera English Network office in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, was questioned the longest at 2 1/2 hours, and was accused several times of working for the Royal Sulu Sultanate Army, despite showing the authorities her employee ID.
When asked during the detention, the Malaysian authorities said the security zone around the standoff area was off-limits to civilians and media to avoid "disrupting political negotiations" with the Royal Sulu Sultanate Army and that this was a sensitive political situation. The Malaysian authorities also said they were not allowed to specify the boundaries of the no-go security zone, but acknowledged that when intercepted, the boat with the journalists on board was far from the "no-go security zone" and that the journalists had not broken any laws at that time.
They stated that the journalists were treated politely throughout the whole detention period. However, the interrogating officers were not in uniform and when asked, declined to provide their full names or rank. This coupled with the lengthy amount of time the questioning was directed at Ms. Alindogan, must have been quite an intimidating experience for the Al Jazeera producer. The 2 and 1/2 hour questioning of Jamela Alindogan was likely due to the fact that she is a very attractive woman, very diminuitive and more easily harrassed.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines released a statement on February 21, 2013 demanding the Malaysian government acknowledge the right of the media to freely cover this story and other significant incidents in the service of the people’s right to know. They seek a statement by the Malaysian authorities to condemn the actions taken against the Al Jazeera team. The NUJP also called on the Philippine government to condemn the detention of Philippine citizen Jamela Alindogan, her camerman Mark Giddens, and Steve Chao.
"Journalists should not be prohibited from covering relevant news that directly affects not only Malaysians but also Filipinos," the NUJP said.
"While we take notice of the diplomatic and security concerns raised by the standoff, it bothers us that journalists going about their legitimate work should be held and questioned for so long."
Jamela was sent to the city of Tacloban ahead of Typhoon Haiyan and found herself stuck in what is believed to be one of the worst typhoons in human history, with over 10,000 people estimated to have lost their lives. Alindogan reported from one of the worst hit areas - the coastal city of Tacloban.
Al Jazeera's Jamela Alindogan described her experience in the midst of the storm.
"At 4:45am local time, we started feeling the wrath of the typhoon. We moved to the second floor, from there I could see roofs being blown away."
"In ten minutes the water started going up really quickly, and we were trapped, we in the hotel with the other guests, all stuck and had no where to go."
"In just a matter of 30 minutes the water surged up as high - all the way up to the second floor of the hotel, and we were stuck," Alindogan added. She and hotel guests ended up climbing up to the ceiling and held onto the rafters which began to cave in, she said.
"And all of a sudden the entire roof is gone, and we were exposed to this beast, this incredible power that is really unimaginable," Alindogan said. "The sound is absolutely terrifying. It is horrific. I mean, it's beyond what anybody else could imagine. I have covered armed conflict, but there is nothing like this. Nothing as incredible and as scary as covering a natural disaster like Typhoon Haiyan."
Alindogan and the rest of the hotel guests managed to hide under some shelves in the hotel's storeroom for several minutes until the water level began to go back down.
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