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    Jan 2008

    Angry Malaysian students warned off attending Anwar Ibrahim talk

    ANNABEL CRABB, PRESENTER: There are few politicians as revered in our region as the long-time Malaysian Opposition Leader and democracy activist Anwar Ibrahim.

    The one-time Deputy Prime Minister and perennial opponent of the Malaysian Government is feted around the world for his decades-long campaign for democracy and the rule of law.

    So it was a coup for organisers of Adelaide's Festival of Ideas when Mr Anwar agreed to speak at this weekend's event.

    But the Malaysian Government is not so keen on his star turn.

    7.30 has learned that Malaysian students studying in Australia have been warned off attending Mr Anwar's speech and told they'll face "stern action" and may lose their scholarships if they ignore that warning.

    Matt Peacock has this exclusive report.

    MATT PEACOCK, REPORTER: 66-year-old Anwar Ibrahim does not give up easily. For 15 years, Mr Anwar's been a leading figure in the Malaysian Opposition and for 15 years he's been dragged in and out of the courts on trumped-up charges of corruption, and more sensationally, sodomy.

    ANWAR IBRAHAM, MALAYSIAN OPPOSITION LEADER: These were scurrilous allegations, no basis. I have enough documentary evidence. I have tapes, I have documents.

    MATT PEACOCK: He was beaten and jailed until the charge was thrown out by the Supreme Court and he was released, only to be charged again in 2008.

    ABC NEWSREADER: The Malaysian Opposition Leader, Anwar Ibrahim, has been ordered to stand trial on sodomy charges for the second time.

    MATT PEACOCK: Again he was acquitted. Now, the Malaysian Government wants him tried once more.

    To Australian Senator, Nick Xenophon, he's a hero.

    NICK XENOPHON, INDEPENDENT SENATOR: He's a very impressive world figure and someone that has a great affection for Australia, someone who's been treated very unfairly to say the least in the way that the Malaysian Government has treated him, incarcerated him, victimised him, defamed him, yet he has always bounced back.

    MATT PEACOCK: Nick Xenophon knows Malaysian politics all too well. Earlier this year on a parliamentary visit to Malaysia, he was detained for 16 hours at the airport before being deported. The Malaysian Government has since banned him from the country for attending an Opposition rally there last year.

    NICK XENOPHON: The level of paranoia amongst the Malaysian Government is just extraordinary.

    MATT PEACOCK: This weekend, Anwar Ibrahim has been invited to speak at Adelaide's Festival of Ideas.

    ANWAR IBRAHAM: I thought there's an opportunity to get and share some of our views and the Festival of Ideas has always been something that we have followed for years.

    MATT PEACOCK: But now, 7.30 has learned the Malaysian Government has warned its students studying at Australian universities on scholarships not to attend the festival session. By email, the student advisor at the Malaysian consulate in Sydney has urged them, "Please refrain yourselves from further joining this activity. You are smarter to think and focus on what matters rather than joining this activity that could make your hardship in maintaining good grades and earning the scholarship goes down the drain. I wouldn't hesitate to take stern action to those scholars who are involved. You know really well what you've signed into."

    It's signed by "the one who cares," student advisor Shahrezan Sheriff.

    NICK XENOPHON: The Australian Government needs to make it absolutely clear to the Malaysian Government as a matter of urgency, some time on Friday, that these threats are completely unacceptable, that these students have the right to attend this forum involving Malaysia's Opposition Leader without any fear of retribution.

    SOPHIE BLACK, DIRECTOR, ADELAIDE FESTIVAL OF IDEAS: We are concerned about the students and we want them to feel confident and to feel that they can attend the event without consequences.

    MATT PEACOCK: So this is the consulate of Malaysia in Sydney where Mr Sheriff works and what we're going to do is just see if we can get him to explain what it is this "stern action" that he's threatened to take against students who attend the festival in Adelaide.

    7.30 wasn't able to speak directly to Mr Sheriff, but through several staff we did invite him to appear on the program.

    OK, so, Mr Sheriff is unavailable. I'm not sure if he's in his office or out. It seemed like he might be in there because there was a bit of a delay before they came back to me. But we'll just have to wait and see if Mr Sheriff's going to front the camera to explain this extraordinary email that is causing so much of a reaction here in Australia.

    MALAYSIAN STUDENT: I'm going to see him tomorrow, yeah. I've registered to the event.

    MATT PEACOCK: Many Malaysian students approached by 7.30 today were too frightened of the consequences to speak publicly, but one, not on a scholarship, but who prefers not to be named, did.

    MALAYSIAN STUDENT: Yes, I'm really disappointed because I thought of asking my friends which had JPA scholars to go with me tomorrow. ... They didn't even reply me.

    SOPHIE BLACK: It's absolutely vital that they can feel free to attend something like this, that they can sit in the audience of someone that they admire and listen to them speak.

    ANWAR IBRAHAM: They should not be intimidated, because if action is taken against them, then we will certainly create an uproar.

    MATT PEACOCK: Mr Anwar says it's not the first time the Malaysian Government's tried to gag him overseas.

    ANWAR IBRAHAM: It's a form of intimidation. If I'm not wrong here, I think it is also probably crossing the line of transgressing Australian laws. This has happened in the United States and the Malaysian embassy had to withdraw and apologise to the university.

    MATT PEACOCK: Senator Xenophon also believes it's unlawful interference in Australian affairs. Both men have called on the Australian Government to take firm action.

    NICK XENOPHON: There needs to be guarantees by the Malaysian Government that this threat be withdrawn, that there will be no consequences.

    ANWAR IBRAHAM: They should say, "Don't intimidate students studying in Australia." That shouldn't be difficult.

    ANNABEL CRABB: Matt Peacock with that report.

    Malaysian students warned off attending Anwar Ibrahim talk - 17/10/2013


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