SYDNEY - Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim Saturday said he was disgusted at how the Australian government responded after Malaysian students were reportedly warned against attending his talk in Adelaide.
Malaysian students living in Australia were urged not to attend Anwar's speech on democracy, part of this weekend's Festival of Ideas, in an email from a student adviser at the Malaysian consulate, the national broadcaster ABC reported.
The Department for Foreign Affairs responded by saying all students in Australia, including Malaysians, "enjoy all rights and liberties available under the Australian law, including the ability to attend a wide variety of legitimate events... The Festival of Ideas in Adelaide is one such event".
Anwar said while he appreciated that as an initial response, it was not enough.
"What is required is to suggest or to indicate that this is wrong, that under Australian laws or in democratic tradition, you cannot condone or tolerate these excesses," he told the ABC.
"If you don't, if you fail to do this, it seems to be condoning the excesses. And that is my surprise or disgust at the failure of the Australian authorities to do the barest minimum to say 'please, back off from this sort of instructions in Australia'."
The controversy erupted after a student adviser at the Malaysian consulate in Sydney reportedly emailed students this week warning of "stern action" if they attended Anwar's address.
"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 go down the drain," the email said.
Anwar said he would take the issue up in Malaysia at parliament, which was due to sit next week, adding he was "quite sure that the Malaysian authority will not have the guts to withdraw scholarships or send students back home".
He used his address at the Festival of Ideas to urge Australia to take a stronger stance.
"Enough of this ambivalence," he said. "You are supporting dictators on the one hand and preaching democracy on the other."
Independent Australian Senator Nick Xenophon also criticised Canberra's response as "pathetically timid" and "embarrassing" and called on the government to condemn the threats.
"These students have been intimidated by this message from the Malaysian government," he told the ABC. "The Australian Government's response is a non-response."