(AP) — A delegation from a Malaysian opposition party urged Australia’s government on Tuesday to use its influence to discourage authorities in Malaysia from fanning Islamic radicalism for political gain.
Three lawmakers from Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s People’s Justice Party met with Foreign Minister Julie Bishop in her Parliament House office to discuss Malaysia’s checkered human rights record and the ruling UMNO party’s attitude toward extremism.
Delegation leader Rafizi Ramli said before the meeting that the United Malays National Organisation was equating opposition to the party as opposition to Islam, dividing voters along racial and religious lines.
He said that a recent rise of “far right wing and racist groups” in Malaysia endorsed by the UMNO posed a threat to Australia as a regional neighbor.
“In an environment where the state subtly and indirectly endorses criticisms and intimidation against a minority, it is easier for the messages of radical groups likes ISIS to take hold,” Rafizi told reporters, referring to the Islamic State group.
“When the Malaysian government is seen to be complicit or indirectly endorsing the rise of radicalism for its political maneuvering and expediency, the Australian government is expected to take a strong stand and communicate and impress upon other governments that it cannot be tolerated,” he added.
UMNO officials could not be immediately reached for comment.
Bishop confirmed that “the risk posed to our region by foreign fighters” was discussed at the 30-minute meeting with Rafizi and his Malaysian colleagues Sim Tze Tzin and Lee Chean Chung.
“The Australian government is aware of about 160 Australians fighting for or supporting terrorist organizations in Iraq and Syria; I understand there are a similar number of Malaysian citizens who are fighting for or supporting ISIL,” Bishop said in a statement.
“Australia is working closely with regional and international partners to respond to this threat,” she added.
The meeting was also attended by independent Senator Nick Xenophon, who was deported on arrival at Kuala Lumpur airport in February last year. He had intended to investigate Malaysia’s electoral system ahead of elections that returned a UMNO-led coalition to power with a smaller majority.
Xenophon praised Rafizi’s People’s Justice Party for being outspoken against extremism.
“I’m very disturbed at the pandering to extremists and the behavior of the ruling UNMO coalition,” Xenophon said.
Tuesday’s meeting came a week before a Malaysian court rules on Anwar’s appeal on sodomy convictions that his supporters say are based on trumped-up charges.
Malaysian police announced last week that they have detained 14 Muslims, including two women and a student, suspected of being linked to the Islamic State group.
The detentions brought the number of people held for suspected militant links to 36 since April.
Prime Minister Najib Razak said the arrests showed his government was serious about routing out militants.