Exposed: How Malaysia fosters anti-LGBT bias, violence

In Malaysia, a wide range of government-sponsored programs spread misinformation about LGBT people, which leads to anti-gay discrimination and violence. After human rights defender Numan Afifi described those abuses to the U.N. Human Rights Council in March, he was investigated by police.

Numan Afifi
Numan Afifi

He explained to the police that he had presented a statement from a coalition of 12 Malaysian organizations that work on gender identity and sexual orientation.

The Malaysian trans rights group Justice for Sisters came to his defense in the following article:

Evidence of State-sponsored Violence And Discrimination Against LGBT Persons In Malaysia

In March 2019, Malaysian human rights defender Numan Afifi made an intervention at the UPR (Universal Periodic Review) Adoption Reports at the Human Rights Council, Geneva. In response, MACSA and WAFIQ claimed that Numan Afifi was misleading to use the phrase ‘state sponsored violence’ in his description of state-sponsored anti-LGBT programmes. We are here to offer evidence in support of Numan’s testimony. With this, we support Numan’s presentation as evidence-based facts, and that he did not in any way misled the Council.

Justice for Sisters logo
Justice for Sisters logo

State-sponsored discrimination and violence refers to any form of mistreatment, violations, and aggressions resulting from the state’s action. The state’s actions could include the enactment of discriminatory laws, policies or directives; allocation of funds for discriminatory activities; and actions or speeches that are hateful, degrading, exclusionary, or incite violence against a group.

In Malaysia, LGBT people are criminalised through many federal and state laws. There are also multiple government-initiated anti-LGBT programmes, overseen by the Prime Minister’s Department and JAKIM [the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia] since 2011, most of which focus on rehabilitation and conversion of LGBT persons.

On 23 July 2018, Mujahid Rawa, the Minister at the Prime Minister Department for Religious Affairs, listed the government-sponsored LGBT programmes in Parliament:

  • Mujahid Yusof Rawa (Photo courtesy of Malaysia Today)
    Mujahid Yusof Rawa (Photo courtesy of Malaysia Today)

    JAKIM’s voluntary treatment and rehabilitation programme, ‘Ilaj Wa Syifa’;

  • The Mukhayyam program that was introduced in 2011 as a strategy to reduce HIV transmission among key affected populations, namely Muslim trans women. While the 3-day camp purportedly aims to create awareness about Islam and HIV and offers job placement, the government on multiple formal occasions has promoted the Mukhayyam programme as a rehabilitation camp. There are also Mukhayyam camps for gay men and lesbian women;
  • Various seminars and programs have been conducted targeting students, school counsellors, parents, volunteers, health staff and representatives of Muslim NGOs, that encourage people to avoid committing ‘LGBT acts’, and encourage others to identify and curb ‘LGBT behaviours’ within their families, social circles, and workplace;
  • Outreach activities: JAKIM claimed they had reached out to over 2,000 LGBT people between 2006 and 2014 to “return to the right path” through its volunteer and outreach programmes;
  • JAKIM’s e-book ‘Panduan Hijrah Diri’ (available on Google Play Store), and other publications, including a compilation of hadith on ‘LGBT acts’ and a brochure ‘Memahami LGBT dari Perspektif Seorang Muslim’ (Understanding LGBT from a Muslim’s perspective), which promotes conversion practices.
  • A 5-year action plan Pelan Tindakan Menangani Gejala Sosial Perlakuan LGBT 2017 – 2021 (Action Plan to address Social Ills LGBT behavior 2017-2021). Alongside 22 partners, including the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Sport and Youth, Ministry of Women, Development and Community, state Islamic departments and other state agencies, the action plan introduced in July 2016 aims to proactively and efficiently curb ‘LGBT behavior’.
Islamic medical centers in Malaysia attempt to "heal" LGBT people by showering them with ice water mixed with salt and lime juice. (Photos courtesy of and Pusat Rawatan Islam Manarah) Click on the image to read the article "Here's How Malaysia "Cures" LGBTs With Conversion Therapy." The victim will consume the mixture above after it has been prayed over with Quran verses. He will then be bathed in the same mixture to cleanse his body of the devil
Islamic medical centers in Malaysia attempt to “heal” LGBT people by showering them with ice water mixed with salt and lime juice. (Photos courtesy of and Pusat Rawatan Islam Manarah) Click on the image to read the article “Here’s How Malaysia “Cures” LGBTs With Conversion Therapy.”

These state-sponsored activities are harmful by design, as they intend to curb and suppress the actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression of LGBT persons. They also encourage others to intervene in the private and public lives of LGBT persons.

All these approaches contain elements of rehabilitation and conversion of LGBT persons, which are not evidence- and rights-based. Scientific evidence and studies do, however, show that rehabilitation and conversion of LGBT persons result in prolonged psychological harm not only in LGBT persons, but also their family members and loved ones. These harmful practices have been widely rejected by global scientific bodies, medical institutions, and human rights groups. As a result, more countries are increasingly prohibiting conversion practices.

Based on our documentation and anecdotal evidence, we are aware there are LGBT people who participate in these government programmes for a variety of reasons. Trans women particularly participate in these programmes to seek financial assistance to start small businesses, to avoid being arrested, to network, and to advance their knowledge of Islam. Therefore, the needs of the participants speak to larger and systemic discriminations faced by trans and LGBT persons in accessing employment, freedom of movement, and religious spaces. These are urgent needs of LGBT people that the government should address through policies and other measures.

There are those who argue that the right to participate in these programmes is a religious right of LGBT persons. Conversion practices cannot be viewed as a religious right of LGBT persons. By definition, the assertion of one human rights claim cannot be used to extinguish other rights. Imposing conditions that require LGBT persons to subject themselves to be changed in order to be accepted by their families and Malaysian society is a violent form of discrimination that violates their right to dignity, safety, health, movement, among others.

Moreover, these government-sponsored programmes reinforce misinformation regarding LGBT people, such as the myths that ‘LGBT behaviours’ are caused by hormonal imbalances, psychological disorders, excessive sexual desires, or a lack of parental or spiritual guidance; that LGBT persons deliberately defy cultural, religious, and societal norms; that LGBT persons are the sole vectors of HIV; and that LGBT identities can be corrected. These have all been widely refuted and debunked by major institutions.

When the Malaysian government funds, produces, and spreads such negative views about LGBT persons, it is not surprising that the public adopts these myths as facts. These government efforts manifest in increased aggression, discrimination and violence against LGBT people in physical spaces and social media, with impunity for perpetrators. In the last few years, the government’s position has directly resulted in the proliferation of anti-LGBT groups that promote rehabilitation practices, anti-LGBT campaigns online and in educational institutions, and violent crimes against LGBT persons.

When these violent acts are seen as “corrective”, they become normalised and accepted by the public. As government endorses discrimination, the Malaysian public too does not see their rejection of LGBT persons as a form of discrimination. Given the climate of fear and rejection in which LGBT people live, LGBT people are faced with limited options for survival and acceptance. Their “voluntary” participation to rehabilitation programmes must take into account the fact that they live in an environment that punishes them for their identities and that pressures them to change.

The state-sponsored activities deprive LGBT people of their right to live with dignity, as enshrined in Article 5 of the Federal Constitution. The state has an obligation to promote, protect and fulfill the rights of all persons. We call on the government to immediately end the investigation towards Numan Afifi and other human rights defenders in the course of defending the human rights of LGBT persons. We also call on the government to engage LGBT human rights groups and review its current policies, activities and practices in relation to LGBT persons.

We will stop calling these rehabilitation and anti-LGBT programmes “government-sponsored violence and discrimination” when the government finally stops producing them. Thank you very much.

Endorsed by:

Queer Lapis
Justice for Sisters
Seksualiti Merdeka
L-INC Foundation
Beyond Borders
PLUHO, People Like Us Hang Out!
PLUsos (People Like Us Support Ourselves)
PELANGI Campaign
Our Journey, Malaysia
KL Queer Women Discussion Group
Malaysian Atheists and Secular Humanists
The Malaysian Feminist
Transmen of Malaysia
All Women Action Society (AWAM)
The Society for the Promotion of Human Rights (PROHAM)
North South Initiative (NSI)
Parti Sosialis Malaysia
Foreign Spouses Support Group (FSSG)
Community Development Centre (CDC)
Jaringan Rakyat Tertindas (JERIT)
Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM)
Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (EMPOWER)
Center of Excellence for Research in AIDS (CERIA)
Queer Academics, Students and Supporters Alliance (QUASSA)
Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor (PSWS)
Projek Ilmu Seks
Malaysian AIDS Council (MAC)
Malaysia Muda

See the original Justice for Sisters article for supporting references and footnotes.

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Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, and editor / publisher of Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at

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