Human Rights Watch warns over Malaysian proposals to increase penalties against LGBT+ people

Kate Ng
·3-min read
<p>The Malaysian government has been urged not to impose heavier punishments on LGBT+ communities</p> (Getty/iStockphoto)

The Malaysian government has been urged not to impose heavier punishments on LGBT+ communities

(Getty/iStockphoto)

The Malaysian government should condemn a cabinet minister’s proposal to crack down harder on LGBT+ communities, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said.

Ahmad Marzuk Shaary, the deputy minister in charge of religious affairs, suggested last week that the government should consider amending a section of the country’s Syariah Courts act to impose heavier penalties agains the LGBT+ people.

Currently, LGBT+ people face three-year imprisonment, a RM5,000 (approximately £900) fine and six strokes of the cane under the act. But Mr Shaary told reporters that increasing punishments “would prevent them from committing more offences”.

He submitted a proposal which would allow state Syariah courts to enact harsher sentences for “same-sex conduct”. Mr Shaary also proposed to criminalise the changing of one’s gender and producing or sharing social media content that was deemed obscene, including images of non-normative gender expression.

HRW blasted the minister’s recommendation as being the “latest in a series of moves to cement the anti-LGBT, anti-human rights stance of prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s Perikatan Nasional government”.

The unelected ruling coalition government came into power by force in March 2020 after it launched a coup and ousted the previous Pakatan Harapan government, which was voted in in the 2018 Malaysian general election.

Neela Ghoshal, associate LGBT rights director at HRW, said in a statement: “Malaysia’s state and federal statutes that criminalise LGBT people are already out of bounds with regard to international law, and the government seems to be sinking even deeper in its disregard for human rights.

“Rather than enhancing penalties for actions that harm no one, the government should repeal such penalties.”

The proposals were met with outrage by local human rights groups and activists, with Lawyers for Liberty warning the government against targeting the Muslim transgender community as it would breach Article 8 of the Federal Constitution, which forbids discrimination on the basis of gender.

Zaid Malek, coordinator of the group, said: “We urge the government to not take such a restrictive view of Islamic law and follow the footsteps of other Muslim majority countries that have already recognised the legitimate rights of the transgender community.

“Egypt and Iran have issued fatwas since the 1980s that allows gender reassignment surgeries, and even Pakistan has enacted the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act in 2018 which is a formal recognition of transgender rights in Pakistan.

“It is obvious therefore that the recognition and protection of the transgender community is not contrary to the precepts of Islam and is in fact mandatory under our Federal Constitution,” he added.

The Malaysia Bar also condemned Mr Shaary’s proposals and said the LGBT community deserves “to be treated equally and with respect”.

There have been concerns that the Malaysian government has grown increasingly intolerant towards the LGBT community in recent years.

Earlier this year, the owner of a cosmetics company and local social media star, Nur Sajat, was charged with “insulting Islam” by a Syariah Court for dressing in feminine clothing at a religious event three years ago.

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