SOUTH-EAST ASIA CORRESPONDENT FOR FAIRFAX MEDIA
Haris Ibrahim. Photo: AFP
The Abbott government has banned a Malaysian democracy activist and lawyer from entering Australia where he had been invited to speak at public forums, including the Australian National University.
The government has given no reason for refusing a temporary visa for Haris Ibrahim, an opposition figure who criticised the conduct of Malaysia’s racially divisive and disputed elections on May 5.
Mr Haris and two opposition members of parliament have been charged with sedition, following remarks he made at a forum eight days after the election, despite the fact that Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak vowed in July last year to repeal the colonial era law.
The case is due to be heard in January.
The decision to refuse Mr Haris a visa was one of the first made by Immigration and Border Protection Minister Scott Morrison. His spokeswoman said he was unable to comment on individual cases.
The former Labor government’s foreign minister Bob Carr criticised the deportation of independent senator Nick Xenophon from Malaysia last February, saying the decision was a ”surprising and disappointing act from a country with which Australia routinely maintains strong diplomatic relations.”
Mr Haris learnt of the decision while travelling overseas and said in a blog post that when he returned to Kuala Lumpur this week he would try to meet diplomats at the Australian high commission ”with a view to allaying some misapprehensions they appear to have about my intended visit to their country and if possible [achieve] a reconsideration of their earlier decision on my application.”
Mr Haris was scheduled to speak to academics at the Australian National University in Canberra on September 29.
He was also scheduled to visit Sydney and Melbourne.
Mr Haris founded the Anything But UMNO group, a reference to the United Malays National Organisation that was returned to power at the election despite the opposition alliance winning a majority of the popular vote.
Malaysia has a gerrymandered electoral system that favours Malays in rural constituencies.
Murray Hunter, an academic at the University of Malaysia Perlis, said the decision to ban Mr Haris showed the Abbott government did not want to rock the boat with Kuala Lumpur.
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