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Australian senator detained

February 16, 2013

Independent Australian Senator Nick Xenophon has been detained at Kuala Lumpur airport and is expected to be deported later on Saturday. Xenophon, a critic of Malaysian democracy, was due for talks on upcoming elections.

Anti-government protesters march on a street in Kuala Lumpur April 28, 2012. Up to 20,000 protesters calling for fair elections and greater accountability marched on Kuala Lumpur's centre on Saturday in a show of force that will test the Malaysian government's reformist pledges and may affect the timing of national polls. (Photo: REUTERS/Tim Chong)
Image: Reuters

Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr described Xenophon's detention at the international airport near Kuala Lumpur as a "surprising and disappointing act from a country with which Australia routinely maintains strong diplomatic relations."

Independent Senator Nick Xenophon was scheduled to hold talks with representatives of Malaysia's coalition government and the opposition ahead of elections that must be held before the end of June.

Speaking to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation by phone from the airport, Xenophon said he was at first held up by immigration officials who spoke of a "technical glitch" after landing.

"I was then told they had orders from above that I was a security risk and I had to be deported," Xenophon told ABC. "Apparently I'm not supposed to use the phone, but no one's stopped me yet - and I guess the worst thing they could do is deport me."

Xenophon said that he presumed his detention was due to his past parliamentary criticism of "the way the democratic system runs or doesn't run" in Malaysia. He also alluded to a criminal defamation case he was pursuing against what he called "basically state, or government-backed, media organizations."

Xenophon told ABC that he considered a publication guilty of "misattributing a speech I gave on Scientology, replacing the word 'Scientology' with the word 'Islam,' which was pretty rough stuff."

'Mute about human rights'

The senator also said that he felt entirely safe, saying "everyone's very polite - they're apologetic, in fact. They say this is something that's beyond their control."

Xenophon was on a separate Malaysia visit in April 2012 when public protests broke out in Kuala Lumpur (pictured above) and police subdued protesters using tear gas. He said at the time that he was disappointed that the Australian government was "mute about human rights issues" in Malaysia, suggesting a recent bilateral immigration deal might be the reason.

The senator also attended last year's trial against opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who was acquitted on sodomy charges. Xenophon was due to meet with Ibrahim again on this visit.

msh/slk (AFP, AP)