Malaysian students in Adelaide have been warned off going to hear Malaysian politician Anwar Ibrahim during the Adelaide Festival of Ideas on Saturday.
An email sent on Monday to 90 Malaysian students in Adelaide warns “stern action” would be taken against them if they attended.
Anwar Ibrahim, who is due to fly in to Adelaide on Friday morning is world famous as a reforming politician in Malaysia, where he has been harassed and jailed on successive charges of homosexuality and sodomy, which he denies.
He is Leader of the Opposition in Malaysia and was invited to the Festival of Ideas to speak on Dissent and Democracy.
The email is addressed to JPA scholars, those who have received scholarships to study here funded by Malaysia’s Public Service Department.
The email is signed by Shahrezan MD Sheriff, student adviser at the Public Service Department, and advises students not to attend the meeting.
It reads: “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 (sic).”
While the email’s authorship has not been confirmed and Shahrezan MD Sheriff did not return calls to the JPA office at the Malaysian Consulate, based in Sydney, it has caused consternation both in Australia and Malaysia.
The visit of Anwar Ibrahim was organised by the Festival of Ideas, together with the State Government, Flinders University and Senator Nick Xenophon.
Mr Xenophon said he had no doubt the email was real.
“When I first saw it I thought it was a hoax, but there’s no denial of it,” he said.
“This is not unusual. This is the story of intimidation that Malaysian students face all the time and now they are extending their harassment to Australia.
“That’s unacceptable, and that’s why I am about to send a letter to the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop about this because this is clearly intimidatory.”
Professor Clinton Fernandez, a Canberra-based expert on Malaysia, said ASIO should also be called in to investigate.
“This is clearly an intrusion in Australia’s domestic affairs and if he is employed by the Malaysian Government (Shahrezan) should be deported,” he said.
Mr Xenophon, who described Ibrahim as a beacon of hope for democracy in Malaysia and the entire South East Asian region, was himself deported and banned from Malaysia earlier this year.
The threatening email was greeted with derision on chat sites of the Anwar Ibrahim Club, both for its poor English and for its threatening tone. “We aren’t stupid anymore. Go to hell, government!” says one.
Mr Anwar’s official engagement is to appear in conversation with ABC broadcaster Waleed Aly at Elder Hall on Saturday, October 19 at 11.30am, hosted by Senator Nick Xenophon. Entry is free.
However, separate meetings have been organised in the city tomorrow and at Bradford Lodge, an international student hostel in Rose Park by the Anwar Ibrahim Club and Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia Adelaide on Saturday night.
It was not clear whether the threatening email was referring specifically to one or all of those events.
The 9th Adelaide Festival of Ideas continues until Sunday.