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Malaysian activist says barred by Australia

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

A leading Malaysian rights activist who faces sedition charges at home has said he was denied a visa to enter Australia, raising suggestions Canberra had buckled to pressure from Kuala Lumpur.

Haris Ibrahim, a strident campaigner against the Malaysian government now headed by Prime Minister Najib Razak, said he was seeking a meeting with Australian officials for clarification.

"I sent a request to meet with the relevant officer at the Australian High Commission with a view to fully explaining the purpose of my intended visit to Australia and to lay to rest any and all concerns they may have," he said in an entry posted on his blog Thursday.

Haris was charged with sedition after he suggested, shortly after the long-ruling coalition government retained power in divisive May 5 elections, that Malaysians reject the polls outcome.

Haris, who is due to be tried next year, confirmed the visa refusal when contacted by AFP but declined to discuss specifics.

"Australia's foreign ministry must justify why Haris was denied a visa and whether it was due to Malaysian pressure," said Malaysian opposition lawmaker Chua Tian Chang, who was also charged in the same sedition case.

Najib's government lost the popular vote but retained power thanks to a system that gives more weight in parliament to rural areas where it is strong.

The opposition and activists staged protests over the electoral system and accused Najib's administration of vote fraud. The government has denied the charge.

An Australian High Commission official in Kuala Lumpur told AFP he had no information on Haris's case.

Haris had planned to travel to Australia this week for speaking engagements.

The political journal Independent Australia said the move indicates a possible "disturbing" shift on human rights and freedom of expression in Southeast Asia by the new government of Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

In February, Australia's then Labor government criticised Malaysia's deportation of independent Senator Nick Xenophon, who said he was kicked out for his advocacy of electoral reform.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130927/malaysian-activist-says-barred-australia