For those who might not be aware of it, the Malaysian government has been, for a quite a long time, conducting a serious effort is demonize and repress a minority group through a series of actions that are a fundamental breach of human rights, and which have some parallels with the early activities of the Nazis in Europe in the 1930s.
Its almost unbelievable in the 21st century that a so-called democratic government can actively persecute a minority of its citizens with impunity. You’ll hear little or no condemnation from world powers like China, the US and the EU or the regional ASEAN organisation, despite the fact that almost on a weekly basis there are strong verbal attacks, and sometimes more, on that minority group by government ministers, and religious leaders, who also actively seek to restrict or deny that group it’s human rights. Such actions could be considered criminal and those responsible should be called to account.
Who are these oppressed people? Gay, lesbians, and transgenders; the same group that Hitler attempted to exterminate in his death camps along with the unfortunate Jews. Some in Malaysia have also advocated that gays be sent to “re-education” camps, and some ‘effeminate’ youth were actually detained in one for a while .
The following reports just some aspects of ongoing government repression:
In 1994, the government banned anyone who is homosexual, bisexual or transsexual from appearing in the state controlled media.
In 1995, the state of Selangor Religious Affairs Minister praised the Islamic Badar vigilante groups who had organized in 1994 to assist in the arrest of 7,000 for engaging in “unIslamic” activities including homosexuality.
In May 1998 forty-five transvestites were tried in an Islamic court following a police raid of a drag beauty pageant held in Alor Star, the capital of the Malaysian state of Kedah. Fifty crossdressers had been vying for a title for the Indonesia-Malaysia-Thailand Growth Triangle before some 300 guests in the Kedah Indian Association hall when police burst in and arrested all the contestants.
Five non-Muslims were released, but the rest were charged with wearing female clothes and posing as women in a public place, charges carrying maximum penalties of six months’ incarceration.
In 2001, the former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad stated that the country will deport any visiting ministers, or diplomats who are gay. Mohamad also warned gay ministers in foreign countries not to bring along their partners while visiting the nation, while his daughter Marina Mahathir has called for an end to discrimination based on sexual orientation.
In 2000, Abdul Kadir Che Kob described homosexuals as “shameless people” and homosexuality as a “sin worse than murder.” Abdul Kadir is head of education and research at Malaysia’s Islamic Affairs Department, which operates as the morality police with 50 enforcement officers across the country. These officers are empowered to arrest Muslims, including unmarried couples, homosexuals, transvestites and transsexuals, suspected of breaking Islamic laws. in 1999, 111 men were arrested in Kuala Lumpur for “attempting to commit homosexual acts”.
In September 2003, a nationally televised speech marking Malaysia’s national holiday by then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad was riddled with anti-gay epithets and threats.
Speaking to a crowd of more than 300,000 following a massive parade in the capital, and broadcast live throughout the country, Mahathir said Malaysia’s achievements proved its policies worked. He then claimed that foreign powers were trying dominate weak countries and warned that Western influences threatened Malaysia’s traditional values.
“Western films idolize sex, violence, murders and wars,” said Mahathir, a critic of US-led globalization. “Now they permit homosexual practices and accept religious leaders with openly gay lifestyles.”
“They are very angry, especially their reporters, many of whom are homos, when we take legal action against these practices,” Mahathir said.
Mahathir warned that “if there are any homosexuals in Malaysia they had better mend their ways,” or face the maximum prison terms.
In 2005, the Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) chief Mohd Anwar Mohd Nor stated that the Navy would never accept homosexuals.
In 2010, the Film Censorship Board of Malaysia announced it would only allow depiction of homosexual characters as long as the characters “repent” or die.
The “People’s Anti-Homosexual Voluntary Movement”, was created in 1998 to lobby for stricter criminal laws against homosexuality, and is part of the ruling United Malays National Organization (UMNO)
In April 2011, the government of the Malaysian state of Terengganu announced a program in which effeminate boys would be sent to a ‘boot camp’ for retraining and re-education.
On 3rd November 2011, The Huffington Post and other media reported that Malaysian police ordered the closure of a “Sexual Independence” festival that had been a low key annual event for three previous years and was held in private to support the beleaguered LGBT community. The Huffington Post story said:
“Authorities will ‘prevent any function relating to the program,’ deputy police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said in a statement run by national Bernama news agency and confirmed by police representatives.
Many organizations “feared the program could create disharmony, enmity and disturb public order,” Khalid said.
Earlier, Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin had described the event as “inappropriate” and a “waste of time,” according to local news agency Bernama.
Gay rights activists said the festival was meant to counter widespread homophobia in this socially conservative Asian nation, where a young gay man received death threats last year after posting a YouTube clip defending his sexuality.
“Asking us to keep quiet is asking us to take your abuse with a smile … it’s time to put a stop to all the hate and misunderstanding and abuse,” festival spokesman Pang Khee Teik said in an online statement posted before the event was banned.
This year’s program also included plans for talks on sexuality issues, a poster exhibition and a makeup workshop by a drag queen. One session is titled “Defense Against The Dark Arts: Homophobia 101.”
Media censorship rules forbid movies and song lyrics that promote acceptance of gays, while a decades-old law makes sodomy punishable by 20 years in prison, though it is seldom and selectively enforced.
The festival’s sponsors and supporters included the Malaysian chapter of Amnesty International, the country’s main grouping of lawyers and other human rights organizations.”
In April 2012 an anti-gay demonstration took place in a Kuala Lumpur university campus which was attended by more than 1000 people.
On 27 June 2012, Prime Minister Najib Razak made it plain in a statement on his website that the Malaysian LGBT community had no part to play in the nation’s life or development, saying “any deviant aspects such as liberalism, pluralism and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) would not have a place in the country”. The reference to pluralism also reflects UMNO’s desire to remain permanently in control of the country.
In November 2012, An ASEAN “Human Rights” declaration was heavily criticised for having little substance after Malaysia and some other countries objected to the inclusion of LGBT rights in the document. A long list of civil rights organisations jointly signed a condemnation of the impotent charter.
On 26 November the wife of the Malaysian Prime Minister told the Phnom Pehn Post: “You know why HIV and AIDS occur… how it is being spread. Now the number of people suffering from HIV is alarming. What is it you want? Do you want to allow this… or do you want to contain it. You have to nip [homosexuality] in the bud. If you don’t, when the time comes and you have to stop [homosexuality], you will find it’s too late.”
In response President of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, Ou Virak, described Rosmah’s comments as ‘bogus and extremely homophobic’.
‘Come on, it’s 2012,’ Virak said. ‘The world knows this is not true. This confirms our fears about the (ASEAN) declaration – that these clauses were included to give governments excuses to not uphold universal principles of human rights.’
Rosmah described human rights as ‘the rights of an individual based on what you believe in, based on your culture and your religion’. She said it was ‘fine’ for other countries to recognize LGBT rights, they wanted to run Malaysia based on ‘high morality’, implying that LGBT people are of low morals by nature.
On 7 December 2012 The ruling UMNO party at it’s annual conference stated that “anti-Islamic elements threaten the country”, singling out homosexuality and those who “promote liberalism in mainly Muslim Malaysia.”
“This LGBT is haram in Islam. (But the opposition) is making LGBT halal … they even said that the law on sodomy is obsolete,” said Pendang delegate Mohd Kamal Saidin, who accused Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim as the man responsible for the promotion of “vice.”
(In 1998, former deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim was charged with corruption and sodomy. In 2000, he was sentenced to nine years for allegedly engaging in sodomy with his 19-year-old male chauffeur and his former male speech writer. Despite national and international protests, he was not released until 2004 when he had already served four years of his sentence, when the Federal Court of Malaysia acquitted him of all charges.
After his release, Anwar stated that he was innocent and the allegations were part of a government conspiracy to end his political career. He also felt that the national criminal laws against homosexuality ought to be reformed to protect consenting adult’s right to have a private life, although he also stated that gay marriage, “is going a bit too far”.
In 2007, former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad responded to a civil lawsuit filed by Anwar by stating that a homosexual should not hold public office in Malaysia and that he knew Anwar was a homosexual because Anwar’s male chauffeur and a male speech writer both stated in court that they had had sexual relations with Anwar.
In July 2008, Anwar was arrested again, accused of sodomy with a male former aide. The arrest came shortly after Anwar claimed to be in a position to challenge the governing coalition after the opposition’s successes in the March elections. However, he was released on bail and won the campaign for his former seat in Parliament, and currently leads the opposition in Parliament. UMNO lost its long held tight grip over Parliament after dismal election results but remained the governing party.)
In January this year, an unbeliveably ignorant and stupid statement was made by the deputy education minister, Puad Zarkashi, that ‘lesbians, gays, bi-sexuals and transgenders (LGBT) are an illness that can be treated.’ – For an education minister, the man is sadly lacking in both education and intelligence.
He was a speaking at a now notorious ‘seminar’ which was supposed to show parents how to recognise the symptoms (of being LGBT) early to prevent their children from practising the LGBT lifestyle.
For those already ‘adopting’ the lifestyle, Dr Puad said “intervention by teachers and parents, followed by counselling, can help them to return to the right path”. The use of a phrase like this clearly shows that there is a huge amount of ignorance within the government of Malaysia, as well as bigotry and homophobia. No gay, lesbian or transsexual ‘chooses’ to be that way, anymore than you can chose your height, or hair colour.
“LGBT is a social illness. We have to raise awareness on it. Just like drugs, a lack of awareness will cause LGBT to spread,” Puad said.
He called on parents to be attentive to their children and take note of their behaviour. “If your son keeps asking for permission to spend the night at the house of another male friend, then you must check to ensure that nothing else is happening,” he said. The seminar, which was attended by hundreds of teachers and parents, was the 20th in a nationwide series.
Later, this same series of seminars became a laughing stock both internationally and inside Malaysia, when the ‘Education’ ministry approved a set of ‘symptoms’ for parents to watch for in their children. Amongst the ludicrous symptoms mentioned were:
Having a muscular body and liking to show their body by wearing V-neck and sleeveless clothes; Preferring tight and light-coloured clothes; Being attracted to men; and liking to bring big handbags, similar to those used by women, when hanging out.
The warning signs for females were equally stupid: Being attracted to women; Besides their female companions, distancing themselves from other women; Liking to hang out, have meals and sleep in the company of women; and having no affection for men.
For Mohammed Islam, the continued intolerance against the LGBT community is directly opposing the professed message of tolerance being pushed by the government and Prime Minister Najib Razak about Islam.
“I feel this is counter to everything we are being told and what we are telling the world about Islam,” the 24-year-old graduate student and gay Malaysian, told Bikyanews.com. “If we are going to be a leader in the world and talk about tolerance, we must be accepting to all people and citizens. These seminars are just continuing to show Malaysia as a backward country.”
Unfortunately, this is not the first time the ruling government has lashed out against the LGBT community. Last year, the government called LGBT as being “of the devil.”
The Umno, in ending its final assembly ahead of the elections, said that anti-Islamic elements threaten the country, singling out homosexuality and those who promote liberalism in “mainly Muslim Malaysia.”
One delegate called for a rehabilitation center for the LGBT community to “re-educate” them and bring them back to society.
At the time of writing (Early April 2013), a musical play is touring Malaysia spewing hatred against the LGBT community – and its fully supported by the bigots in the Malaysian government.
The government-financed musical that aims to ‘warn young people about the perils of being lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT)’ has sparked controversy over its “state-sponsored bigotry” and potential to incite hatred.
Asmara Songsang (Abnormal Desire) follows the lives of three LGBT friends who throw loud parties, take drugs and have casual sex, thereby incurring the wrath of their religious neighbours, who attempt to reintroduce them to the teachings of Islam. Those who repent are spared, while those who don’t are killed in a lightning storm.
This abhorent ‘play’ completely ignores that fact that most LGBT live very ordinary, routine lives, virtually identical to those of heterosexuals, and is produced purely to incite hatred. Drug taking and casual sex is not entirely unusual amongst heterosexuals in Malaysia, while corruption and sexual misdemeanours are common enough among some high ranking officials who like to preach to others about how they should live.
These few examples are just the tip of the iceberg of state sponsored hatred against a minority group that doesn’t bother anyone and just wants to peacefully get on with life in the same way that other citizens can.
Can you imagine living in a country where your own government – elected to serve the whole community – is actively persecuting the community you are a part of?
Aziz (not his real name) is a gay Malay Muslim. He described to Asiaout how he and some of his friends live in a climate of fear and intimidation, despite being what he describes as “good muslims”.
“We are afraid of being attacked on the street; afraid of being fired from our jobs; afraid of being arrested on some pretext and then beaten by the police; we’re afraid of what the government might do next.”
Peter, a gay ethnic Chinese, added; “The whole atmosphere is one of fear. When the government incites hatred against us, there is no recourse at all. We’re in a hopeless situation.”
Suleiman, another Malay Muslim, noted that living abroad was the best option for many gay Malaysians: “I was lucky enough to have the chance to study and live in England, where despite some racial attitudes, I still feel safer than at home in Malaysia. If I was unlucky enough to suffer an attack or discrimination I know that I can go to the authorities and get help; something that is impossible in Malaysia.”
As mentioned in our opening remarks, Malaysians have a rare opportunity to vote Najib and his bigoted cohorts out of power, and hopefully in due course these extremist politicians will be held accountable in a court of law.