A coalition of human rights organizations is challenging Malaysian officials’ plans to expand anti-LGBTQ laws governing the nation’s Muslim majority.
At issue are proposed amendments to the Malaysian laws governing use of Syariah (shariah) law, which applies to Muslims, and which can add crimes and punishments beyond what national laws impose on citizens.
The proposed amendments would allow Syariah enforcers to act against Muslims who “insult Islam” either online or offline, which has been interpreted as including acts preparatory to sexual intercourse, prostitution, gambling, and expressing opinions contrary to fatwas.
The amendments would empower state Islamic officers to police the online behavior of Muslims and to arrest those who committed the offenses.
In a joint statement protesting the proposed amendments, the coalition cited the case of cosmetics entrepreneur Nur Sajat, a Muslim trans activist and Internet celebrity, declaring:
“Provisions like ‘insulting Islam’ and ‘encouraging vice’ under the state Syariah laws are used arbitrarily and expansively by state Islamic departments against LGBTIQ persons. In Sajat’s case, she was charged for insulting Islam because of gender identity and gender expression, in particular for wearing an abaya at a charity event that she organized for a tahfiz (Islamic) school. Meanwhile, ‘encouraging vice’ has been used against event organisers for organising events for or attended by trans women, restricting the freedom of expression and assembly for both the organisers and attendees.”
Malaysia already has a law providing prison sentences of up to 20 years and whipping for people convicted of homosexual intercourse.
The coalition’s protest came in response to a statement by Ahmad Marzuk bin Shaary, deputy minister at the Prime Minister’s Department (Religious Affairs), following a task force meeting on LGBT issues.
In his statement, the Deputy Minister indicated that the task force would identify legal obstacles that restrain Syariah police from acting against Muslims who insult Islam or promote “LGBT lifestyle”.
In its protest, the coalition declared that “The state must correct the misconception that “LGBT people are promoting their ‘lifestyle’ on social media”. What the state deems as ‘lifestyle’ is our very existence as human beings. As human beings, we are entitled to determine who we are and express ourselves accordingly.”
The coalition added that the amendments would have a “chilling effect on rights and opportunities for all persons,” especially LGBTIQ persons, and not just Muslims. Those would include:
- Increased threats to personal safety and barriers in accessing justice.
- Encouragement of religious extremists.
- Loss of economic opportunities for LGBTIQ persons.
- Increased hostility and threats against human rights defenders.
The coalition’s statement was endorsed by:
- Justice for Sisters
- All Women’s Action Society (AWAM)
- Amnesty International Malaysia
- Association of Women Lawyers
- Beyond Borders Malaysia
- Center for Independent Journalism (CIJ)
- Community Women & Workers Network (CWWN)
- Freedom Film Network
- KRYSS Network
- Legal Dignity
- Lingkaran Islam Tradisional (LIT)
- PELANGI Campaign
- Persatuan Sahabat Wanita, Selangor (Friends of Women Organisation, Selangor)
- PLUHO, People Like Us Hang Out!
- The KLSCAH Women Division
- Sarawak Women for Women Society
- Sisters in Islam (SIS)
For more information, read the full statement: “Anti-LGBT amendments by the Prime Minister’s Department (Religious Affairs) have wide-ranging impact on all persons in Malaysia”.