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Tuesday, 10 February 2015
Page: 371


Senator XENOPHON (South Australia) (19:39): I rise to speak about a matter which is a travesty and a tragedy of democracy in the region. Earlier today Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was sentenced to five years' jail on trumped up charges of sodomy. There is no appeal—it has gone to Malaysia's highest court. These charges are manifestly and clearly politically motivated. There was a corrupted legal process. It has been acknowledged by Human Rights Watch, by Amnesty International, by the Interparliamentary Union and by the International Committee of Jurists that these charges were trumped up.

Anwar Ibrahim is a friend of mine. He is a person I have enormous respect for. Many regard him as the Nelson Mandela of the region because of what he has gone through—6½ years in jail, solitary confinement, on charges that were trumped up and eventually thrown out through the Malaysian legal system back in 2008. He now faces these other charges, which are indeed a travesty. I will refer to them briefly.

Last night I spoke to Anwar Ibrahim to wish him well. Today, surprisingly, during an adjournment after it was made clear that the Federal Court would jail him, and Anwar rang me to tell me that he was facing a long jail term. He told me that Australia needs to speak out—that Australia, as a good friend of Malaysia, needs to tell the truth about what has occurred. I spoke to him again, all too briefly, as he was being led into to be sentenced to five years. It is an absolute travesty. The great man, the great statesman that Anwar is, still had his sense of humour. He said to me, 'My friend, I am about to be taken to my new palace.' He says that we must keep up the fight and let the world know what has happened to him and, more importantly, what has happened to Malaysian democracy.

As you are aware, Mr Acting Deputy President, I am banned from Malaysia. I was deported from there almost two years ago because I have spoken out on behalf of pro-democracy groups within Malaysia. We should not be fooled as a nation about the Malaysian government and its regime. Prime Minister Najib—despite his genial, and some would say his bumbling, demeanour—rules a party and leads a government that has ruled Malaysia with an iron fist since 1957. There is no freedom of the electronic media; you need a permit to publish a newspaper; only the internet has a semblance of freedom. This regime is a regime that has repressed dissent. As Anwar Ibrahim told me when I was there back in 2012, the great tragedy for Malaysia is that, because of the cronyism and corruption of UMNO regime, Malaysia has been left behind in terms of economic development. Forty years ago Malaysia and South Korea had about the same GDP per capita, but now 40 years later South Korea's GDP is four times higher than Malaysia's per capita GDP, despite its abundant natural resources and enormous petroleum wealth. That is what has occurred.

As a nation, we must speak out. I met with the foreign minister, the honourable Julie Bishop, late this afternoon to express my concerns. Australia must play a leadership role in the region to speak out about this travesty of injustice. We must be aware that this trial was politically motivated; we must be aware that, two days before the alleged incident for which Anwar Ibrahim was convicted, the alleged victim met with Prime Minister Najib and the prosecutor at Prime Minister Najib's home. That raises serious issues about the very nature of these charges.

Independent jurists have condemned these charges; independent jurists say this is a sham of a trial. Anwar Ibrahim is now going to be imprisoned for a period of five years and will be banned from running for public office for another period of five years. He is 67 years old; he is a beacon of democracy in the region. It is important that we play our role and to do the right thing by speaking out to condemn this injustice and to call for the release of Anwar Ibrahim from this manifestly bizarre and unfair travesty. We must speak out. I will be calling on my colleagues to gather with me tomorrow so that we can speak to the media to let the region know that we actually give a damn about what is happening in Malaysia.