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Malaysia detained an Australian politician at Kuala Lumpur airport Saturday, branding him a "prohibited immigrant" ahead of his expected deportation, in a move Canberra described as "disappointing".
Nick Xenophon, an outspoken independent senator who has been critical of Malaysia's electoral system, was held at the international airport near the capital Kuala Lumpur upon his arrival from Melbourne.
He is expected to be deported back to Melbourne later Saturday. He and other Australian lawmakers were planning the Malaysia trip to try to ascertain the freeness of upcoming national elections, due to take place by June.
Immigration director general Alias Ahmad said in a text message to AFP that Xenophon had "tarnished the image of the country" and been classified as a "prohibited immigrant".
He later elaborated in a statement that Xenophon was blacklisted because he attended an "illegal street protest" in Kuala Lumpur last year.
"Malaysia is a free and democratic country, but no one is above the law. Authorities will take the appropriate action against any individual deemed to have violated national laws," Alias said.
Xenophon, who has said he attended the electoral reform mass rally last April as an observer while studying Malaysia's poll system, told AFP that he was "shocked" by his detention.
"It seems that the government is fearful of scrutiny," he said via telephone from the airport. "This in my mind confirms that they (elections) won't be" fair.
Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr said officials were in touch with Xenophon and were seeking his "swift release" and a "full explanation" of the incident.
"Senator Xenophon's detention is a surprising and disappointing act from a country with which Australia routinely maintains strong diplomatic relations," he said, adding that he had been in Malaysia for "peaceful purposes".
Xenophon and the other politicians were to meet members of electoral reform group Bersih, which organised last year's rally, and others including opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim and Election Commission officials.
The other lawmakers had now cancelled their trip, Xenophon said.
Anwar condemned Xenophon's detention "in the strongest terms", saying allegations that he was a security threat were "completely without foundation".
"I would like to remind Prime Minister Najib Razak that he has no right to treat visitors as enemies of the state merely because they are critical of his... administration," he said in a statement.
The upcoming polls are expected to be the toughest ever test for Najib's coalition, which has ruled the country since independence from Britain in 1957 but has lost support in recent years.
Najib has touted reforms to boost the economy and allow for greater civil liberties, but rights groups have dismissed the changes as window-dressing to get votes.