Malaysia detains Australian politician at airport

AFP , Saturday 16 Feb 2013

Malaysian authorities say the Australian politician is a security risk

Malaysia detained an Australian politician at Kuala Lumpur airport Saturday and is expected to deport him, an activist said, in a move Canberra described as "disappointing and surprising".

Nick Xenophon, an outspoken independent Senator who has been critical of Malaysia's electoral system, was detained at the international airport near the capital Kuala Lumpur upon his arrival from Melbourne.

"He informed me that he is being deported," Ambiga Sreenevasan, a lawyer and co-chair of electoral reform group Bersih, told AFP after she spoke to Xenophon early Saturday.

The Malaysian government is yet to comment on the circumstances surrounding Xenophon's detention, but Ambiga said it appeared to be "under the Security Offences Act".

"(Authorities) said he is a security risk," she added.

Xenophon told ABC News 24 that he and other Australian lawmakers were planning the Malaysia trip to try and ascertain the freeness of upcoming national elections, due by June.

"I think the Australian government has been incredibly silent about some of the abuses that have been occurring here in terms of the way the democratic system runs or doesn't run," Xenophon said by telephone from the airport.

Australia's Foreign Minister Bob Carr said Australian officials were in touch with Xenophon and were seeking his "swift release".

"Senator Xenophon's detention is a surprising and disappointing act from a country with which Australia routinely maintains strong diplomatic relations," he said.

Xenophon has travelled to Malaysia several times, including to study the poll system at the invitation of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.

On this visit, he was to meet Bersih members and others including Anwar and Election Commission officials, Ambiga said.

Bersih has staged several mass rallies for electoral reforms, such as a clean-up of the voter list. The latest rally last April, which Xenophon attended as an observer, ended in police crack-downs with tear gas and water cannon.

The polls are expected to be the toughest ever facing Prime Minister Najib Razak's coalition, which has ruled the country since independence from Britain in 1957.

The Security Offences (Special Measures) Act, or SOSMA, was introduced last year to replace the much-criticised colonial-era Internal Security Act, which allowed indefinite detention without trial.

Najib has touted SOSMA and other reforms to show he is granting more civil liberties, but rights group have criticised the new act, saying it still gives broad powers to detain people for lengthy periods.

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