Prime Minister of Malaysia, Mr. Najib Razak’s carefully constructed international image may come unstuck. The reason, the silly deal he made with the Australian government on a refugee swap.

An Australian refugee rights advocate group, led by Mr. David Manne, will challenge the Australian federal government’s Malaysia solution with two arguments:

(i) that asylum-seekers arriving in Australia have a right to have claims for refugee protection assessed here; and

(ii) that the High Court can review Immigration Minister Chris Bowen’s declaration that Malaysia is a suitable destination for off-shore processing.

A full bench at the High Court of Australia will decide this.

The second argument will be of interest to Mr. Najib Razak.

Mr. Manne was quoted as follows in The Australian:

Mr Manne made it clear that Malaysia’s human rights record, and particularly its treatment of refugees, would be put on trial.

“Amongst the claims that are being made among many of those that we are acting for are that they in fact would face the real risk of being persecuted in Malaysia due to the human rights situation there,” he said.

“Malaysia has a long standing record of very serious mistreatment of asylum-seekers and refugees including, as we know, arbitrary arrest, arbitrary detention, beatings, whippings, canings and even deportation. A number of our clients have made very strong claims of fearing that they would not be protected in Malaysia.”

Thus far, Mr. Najib Razak has had the upper hand in winning admiration from the international community through a very successful international public relations campaign. However, this momentum changed on 9, July 2010, with his heavy handed clamp down of Malaysians advocating for free and fair rlections.

A further blow came when Sarawak Report exposed how the Government of Malaysia was promoting itself unethically abroad.

We (Sarawak Report) revealed how BN politicians, including the Prime Minister Najib Razak, Abdullah Badawi and Taib Mahmud have been paying the production company, the UK-based FBC Media, millions of ringgit of taxpayers’ money to buy them positive publicity on the show. (The video above is one such example.)

Allowing slots to be purchased in this way, deceiving millions of viewers who thought they were watching impartial programming, is a serious breach of broadcasting laws, for which broadcasters such as CNBC’s parent company, the American broadcasting giant NBC, would be held ultimately responsible.

Last night the company’s Vice President of Marketing & Communications, Charlotte Westgate, made this statement to Sarawak Report confirming the decision to withdraw the show:

“In light of serious questions raised last week, CNBC immediately initiated an examination of FBC and its business practices and has withdrawn the programme ‘World Business’ indefinitely.”

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) has also suspended its ties with FBC.

I had wondered why the Government of Malaysia would take such a high risk of exposing itself to the international community through this deal. The millions of dollars of tax payers money spent on promoting Mr. Najib Razak’s image abroad is about to go down the drain should the High Court of Australia decide that Malaysia is not a suitable destination for refugees.

Update 1: Government of Malaysia fires FBC

Putrajaya has now ended its contract with British publicity firm FBC Media after an embarrassing exposé last week revealed Malaysian leaders routinely appeared in paid-for interviews on global television programmes.

The Malaysian Insider understands that the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) terminated FBC Media’s contract in the past week, just months after another public relations firm, APCO Worldwide from the United States, met an ignominious end for alleged links to Israel.

Extract from “Putrajaya ditches FBC Media as image experts after exposé“, Jahabar Sadiq, The Malaysian Insider.