KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 17 — Australia’s former prime minister Kevin Rudd condemned Australian senator Nick Xenophon’s detention in Malaysia as unacceptable and urged Canberra to be “robust” in response.
Xenophon (picture) arrived in Kuala Lumpur yesterday morning to call on Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, de facto law minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Aziz and Election Commission (EC) officials next week, but was detained at the Low-Cost Carrier Terminal in Sepang and subsequently deported late at night.
“Detaining any member of an Australian parliament, in the way in which Senator Xenophon appears to have been detained, is just unacceptable,” Rudd told Australian news channel Sky News today.
“We are robust about our democracy and therefore we should be robust in our response to our friends in Kuala Lumpur,” he added.
Xenophon was to review the country’s electoral system with a delegation of other Australian MPs and senators that would arrive later, but his colleagues have cancelled the trip in response to his deportation.
Rudd said today that Australia was a “good friend” to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, but that Putrajaya’s action warranted a response.
“He’s an elected member of the Australian Parliament and should be treated with the appropriate respect,” added Rudd, referring to Xenophon.
Immigration Department director-general Datuk Alias Ahmad said yesterday that Xenophon was deported and barred from entering Malaysia under the Immigration Act 8(3) because the senator had made statements that allegedly tarnished Malaysia’s image.
Alias highlighted Xenophon’s remarks about the Malaysian government being “authoritarian” in handling last April’s Bersih 3.0 rally for free and fair elections.
In Xenophon’s observation of the rally, he noted that the police had fired tear gas and chemical-laced water in what had been a largely peaceful protest.
His comments were also laid down in the final report of a fact-finding mission on elections in Malaysia as part of an international polls observer group that included six others, including representatives from neighbouring Indonesia, the Philippines, India, Pakistan and Germany.
Xenophon’s detention and deportation have raised the ire of several Malaysians, including electoral reform group Bersih 2.0 and Pakatan Rakyat (PR) politicians.
Bersih 2.0 co-chair Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan lambasted Xenophon’s deportation as a move that showed the government’s “paranoia” about the coming national polls.
Anwar called it a “gross abuse of power” that violated international protocol in treating international lawmakers, especially those from the Commonwealth.
Several other Twitter users joined Ambiga in raining scorn on the government’s decision, with the subject spawning a hashtag #xenophon.
The Election Commission (EC) however has defended the lawmaker’s deportation, saying that immigration authorities were merely performing their duty.
EC deputy chairman Datuk Wan Ahmad Wan Omar added that it was unjust to judge the fairness of the coming Election 2013 based on Xenophon’s expulsion.