Kuala Lumpur - Malaysia's government faced fresh allegations of trampling rights on Monday after the leader of a massive demonstration last year calling for the premier's ouster over a graft scandal said she was prevented going abroad to accept an award.
Maria Chin Abdullah, who heads the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections - Malaysia's leading political pressure group - said she was stopped Sunday night from travelling to South Korea to accept the Gwangju Prize for Human Rights on behalf of her group.
"It's outrageous and shows a desperate government clutching on to power when it should be accountable," she told AFP.
Chin said she was given no explanation and that the refusal violated her constitutional rights.
Prime Minister Najib Razak's government is accused of cracking down on civil liberties following a 2013 election setback and amid allegations that billions of dollars were stolen from a state development fund he founded called 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
Najib and 1MDB both deny wrongdoing.
Chin's organisation - known in Malaysia as "Bersih", the Malay word for "clean" - is an alliance of NGOs that has staged large demonstrations in recent years to demand reform of an electoral system it says is rigged in favour of the ruling coalition.
Last August it orchestrated protests by tens of thousands to press for Najib's ouster over the graft allegations and demand anti-corruption reforms.
Chin's travel refusal drew criticism of the government on Malaysia's hyperactive social media Monday, and opposition leader Wan Azizah Wan Ismail vowed to call for a protest against "this shameful, desperate act".
Immigration authorities and Najib's office could not immediately be reached for comment.
In the past three years dozens of activists and government critics including Chin have been investigated on a range of charges, typically sedition, and authorities banned Bersih's yellow shirts as a "national security threat" following last August's anti-Najib protests.
Last year, opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was jailed for five years on a sodomy conviction that the United States and others said raised troubling questions about Malaysia's judiciary and rule of law.
An appeals court was to rule Monday on the sedition conviction last year of prominent anti-government activist Hishamuddin Rais, who said in 2013 that Najib's government should be otherthrown.
Human Rights Watch on Monday called his conviction "a shameful, politically motivated attack" displaying a "yawning and rapidly expanding gap" between the government's conduct and international law.