Malaysia urged to renounce diabolical plan to further persecute innocent LGBT+ people

Maggie Baska
·2-min read

Malaysia’s government has been urged to renounce a cabinet minister’s proposal to increase criminal penalties against LGBT+ people.

The Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the attempt to strengthen criminal penalties against LGBT+ Malaysians is the latest in a series of moves to cement an anti-LGBT+ and anti-human rights stance under the prime minister’s government.

Deputy minister for religious affairs Ahmad Marzuk Shaary has proposed amendments to the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act (Act 355) which would allow state courts to enact harsher sentences for same-sex conduct than the current maximum sentence permitted under federal law.

Act 355 limits the sentences that can be imposed by Sharia courts. The current sentence under the act includes three-year imprisonment, a fine of RM5,000 (£905) and six strokes with a cane.

However, Marzuk said this punishment was “not giving much effect on the group of people”. He said: “All state religious agencies and enforcers have been instructed to take action against those [LGBT+ people] who do not behave accordingly.”

Neela Ghoshal, associate LGBT+ rights director for the HRW, said Malaysia’s state and federal statutes that criminalise LGBT+ people are “already out of bounds” with regard to international law. She added the country’s 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,” Ghoshal said.

All 13 states and the federal territory in Malaysia criminalise same-sex relations and gender nonconformity. The federal penal code also punishes any form of anal or oral sex with up to 20 years in prison and mandatory caning.

Marzuk also proposed that being trans and producing or sharing social media content deemed “obscene and indecent” could be a specific offence under Act 355. This would include producing or sharing images of non-conforming gender expression.

Transgender activity Nisha Ayub said: “In Malaysia, transgender people live in fear of being targeted and prosecuted just because of who we are. Aren’t we part of society? Aren’t we supposed to be protected by the laws just as others?”

Malaysian human rights activists said courts had never actually imposed caning sentences – which are a form of torture under international law – for same-sex conduct before 2018. But in September 2018, the Terengganu state carried out a caning sentence against two women accused of attempted same-sex relations. In November that year, the Selangor Sharia court sentenced five men to fines, imprisonment and caning, while others who pled not guilty are awaiting trial.

In July 2020, the religious affairs minister Zulkifli Mohamad published a Facebook post giving “full license” to federal officers to arrest transgender people and “counsel” or “educate” them so that they “return to the right path”.