Malaysia: Ban On Sexuality Rights Festival Violates Human Rights

Press Release

Media Contacts:

Roberta Sklar, Press Secretary
917-704-6358, robertasklar@yahoo.com

Grace Poore, Regional Coordinator for Asia and Pacific Islands
301-589-4462, gpoore@iglhrc.org

(New York, November 9, 2011) Today, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) sent a letter to the government of Malaysia condemning the November 3rd police ban of all events related to Seksualiti Merdeka, an annual arts and performance showcase dedicated to the rights to identity and self-determination out of alleged concern for public order.

"The police rationalized the shutdown of Seksualiti Merdeka as a preemptive move against possible altercation by conservative groups misusing religion to vilify people who do not conform to their expectations of acceptable sexual orientation and gender identity," said Grace Poore, Regional Coordinator for Asia and the Pacific Islands at the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC).

Datuk Seri Kahlid Abu Bakar, Deputy Inspector-General of Police, who issued the ban against Seksualiti Merdeka told media during a press conference in Kuala Lampur on November 3, "We are not against the people's right to freedom of speech or human rights. However, if the event creates uneasiness among the vast majority of the population, it may result in disharmony, enmity and threaten public order."

Mr. Khalid threatened police action against anyone who defied the ban and announced that festival organizers would be taken in for questioning under Section 298A of the Malaysian Penal Code and Section 27A(1)(c) of the Malaysian Police Act.

Ten organizers were questioned by Royal Malaysian Police in Kuala Lumpur. As a result of the ban, organizers were forced to stop the annual festival. In an atmosphere of increasing intimidation and harassment, on November 1, two plainclothes and two uniformed police officers entered a workshop on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer and questioning (LGBTQ) human rights.

"The police abused their authority by targeting people already being vilified," said Poore. "Their conduct encouraged intolerance, hate speech and aggression."

The 2011 Seksualiti Merdeka, scheduled from November 2 to 13, was themed "Queer Without Fear." The theme aptly captures the violence, culture of impunity and harassment experienced by LGBT Malaysians. The national Malay media has condemned women who appear masculine and men who appear feminine.1 Terengganu state schools have removed effeminate male students from regular schools and mandate them to "reparative" education.2 Melaka religious authorities have sanctioned the intimidation and beating of transgender people (mak nyah).3 Reports from an unpublished study on violence against LGBT people preliminarily indicate that police have extorted money from LGBT individuals, and families are using physical violence to punish gender and sexual non-conformity of female members.4

Background

Seksualiti Merdeka was launched in 2008 by a network of artists and activists advocating for the social, cultural, civil and political rights of Malaysian citizens who are denied the rights to identity and self-determination. The two-week festival, which is always held on private premises, has featured workshops, poetry, music, dance, interactive installations and film screenings to generate discussion, raise awareness, and promote respect for sexual and gender diversity. According to organizers, festival attendance has been growing: 500 people in 2008 and 1500 in 2010. Previous years saw no disruptions.


The following excerpts are from press releases by organizers of Seksualiti Merdeka, as well as women’s rights and human rights NGOS, the Malaysian Bar Council, and Islamic and non-Islamic groups that support Seksualiti Merdeka and oppose the ban.

Organizers of Seksualiti Merdeka, November 5, 2011
"The Malaysian government should uphold our right to conduct peaceful forums, workshops and performances. The intimidating displays of hatred and ignorance towards us and calls for us to be shut down demonstrate why we absolutely need a safe space and event like Seksualiti Merdeka. The blanket ban on Seksualiti Merdeka’s programme this year is unprecedented as we have been conducting similar events over the past few years. In the interest of the safety of our participants, we will not proceed with all public events of Seksualiti Merdeka while we seek a meeting with the Inspector General of Police YB Tan Sri Ismail Omar to explain the objectives of Seksualiti Merdeka."
http://komunitikini.com/kl-selangor/kuala-lumpur/mccbchst-seksuality-merdeka-religion-lgbt-human-rights

Malaysian Consultative Council on Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST), November 5, 2011
"MCCBCHST is against all forms of harrassment, intimidation, threats and violent attacks on any Malaysian including those from the lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) community. Their right to personal liberty, dignity and privacy must be respected. We also note that all Malaysians have a right to freedom of expression and can disagree with our existing laws. As long as they assemble in peace to discuss these matters, to educate and create awareness, and to seek law reform, their right to express themselves and to assemble peacefully must also be respected."
http://komunitikini.com/kl-selangor/kuala-lumpur/mccbchst-seksuality-merdeka-religion-lgbt-human-rights

Women’s Candidacy Initiative, November 4, 2011
"The banning of this festival is an attack on Malaysia’s democracy and the fundamental principles of the Federal Constitution, including the right to freedom of expression and association. … WCI seeks to improve the democratic participation of women in Malaysia and regards the current act of censorship as extremely damaging to the participation of all women, especially women of diverse sexual orientations and/or gender identities."
http://komunitikini.com/kl-selangor/kuala-lumpur/wci-condemns-seksualiti-merdeka-bans

Sisters In Islam, November 3, 2011
"Sisters in Islam (SIS) strongly disagrees with the police's blanket ban on Seksualiti Merdeka. We see this as yet another pattern of censorship and banning of freedom of expression, association and the free circulation of ideas in Malaysia. We are also concerned at how the ban is going to be enforced by the police force. Was there, for example, a court order to ban the festival? How exactly do the police intend to follow through this "ban"?... While we understand that there are Muslims opposed to ideas of respecting gender and sexual diversity, as a Muslim women's organisation, SIS disagrees with the methods used to stifle these ideas."
http://komunitikini.com/kl-selangor/kuala-lumpur/sisters-in-islam-opposes-ban-on-seksualiti-merdeka

Ahmad Fuad Rahmat, Islamic Rennaisance Front, November 3, 2011
"We are living in a heterogeneous society full of diversity. In order for a society to mature, it must be able to remodel itself to be inclusive in nature. There should be no discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation, irrespective of race and religion. Every single citizen has the right to live and express his or her conviction without fear. … In the spirit of democracy and fundamental liberty, we must respect the freedom of expression of all Malaysians."
http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/mobile/sideviews/article/on-the-seksualiti-merdeka-controversy-a-plea-for-calm-and-rationality-ahmad-fuad-rahmat/

Suara Rakyat Malaysia with 16 Endorsements, November 2, 2011
"We are deeply concerned with the situation where religious and political leaders, as well as the media continue to demonise LGBTIQ activists and communities in Malaysia. In addition, LGBTIQ persons are frequently exposed to hate speech, attacks and harassment. We believe that everyone in Malaysia deserves to be free from discrimination, harassment and violence regardless of their sexual orientations and their gender identities. We believe it is our right to be responsible for our own body. We, the undersigned organisations, whole-heartedly will continue to support the much-needed efforts taken by the Seksualiti Merdeka."
http://www.facebook.com/suararakyatmalaysia


Malaysian Bar Council President, Lim Chee Wee, November 2, 2011

"In Malaysia, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender ("LGBT") community has long been treated as "outsiders", even though they are citizens. Members of the LGBT community in Malaysia face numerous hardships, including a lack of personal safety due to harassment by civil and Syariah authorities, living in fear of prosecution for the private acts of consenting adults, and constantly facing public discrimination and denigration. They are perennially at the receiving end of negative innuendo and hate speech in the mainstream media, which is seemingly tolerated by the authorities. The Malaysian Bar encourages PM Najib Razak to follow up on his words that Malaysia is a "progressive, liberal nation" and to alleviate the suffering of members of the LGBT community in Malaysia. He can do so by quickly introducing laws to remove legislation that impose unwarranted restrictions on the individual liberties of the LGBT community in Malaysia."
http://www.kritis-online.com/



Letter to the Inspector General of Police

YB Tan Sri Ismail Omar
Inspector General of Police
Ibu Pejabat Polis Diraja Malaysia
Bukit Aman
50560 Kuala Lumpur
Malaysia
Tel: 03 - 2266 2222
Fax: 03 - 2070 7500

November 9, 2011

Re: Ban of Seksualiti Merdeka

Dear Tan Sri Ismail,

I write to you from the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), a twenty-one year-old human rights organization with offices around the world, to express deep concern about recent events around Seksualiti Merdeka, an annual festival dedicated to the use of art and performance to advocate for human rights. On November 3, 2011, police shut down all events related to Seksualiti Merdeka, citing concern for public order. The police crackdown represents a violation of the rights to assembly, association, privacy and expression.

On November 1, two plainclothes and two uniformed police officers entered a workshop on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer and questioning (LGBTQ) human rights, an act we interpret as surveillance and intimidation. The police acted in response to a complaint by members of a Malay rights group, Perkasa, to the Deputy Inspector General of Police, Datuk Seri Khalid Abu Bakar, alleging that Seksualiti Merdeka was promoting "abnormal and immoral activities."

On November 3, Mr. Khalid in a press conference in Kuala Lumpur ordered that Seksualiti Merdeka be banned, saying, "We are not against the people's right to freedom of speech or human rights. However, if the event creates uneasiness among the vast majority of the population, it may result in disharmony, enmity and threaten public order." The police then threatened "action" against anyone who defied the ban. He also announced that festival organizers would be taken in for questioning by police under Section 298A5 of the Penal Code and under Section 27A(1)(c) of the Police Act.6

Ten organizers were questioned by Royal Malaysian Police in Kuala Lumpur. As a result of the ban, organizers were forced to stop the annual festival.

Since 2008, Seksualiti Merdeka has been an annual showcase of artistic expression to advocate for Malaysian citizens who are denied the rights to identity and self-determination. Seksualiti Merdeka has always held peaceful, educational gatherings on private premises. The 2011 theme, "Queer Without Fear," aptly captures the violence, culture of impunity and harassment experienced by LGBT Malaysians. Homophobia and transphobia take diverse forms. The national Malay media has condemned women who appear masculine and men who appear feminine.7 Terengganu state schools have removed effeminate male students from regular schools and mandate them to "reparative" education.8 Melaka religious authorities have sanctioned the intimidation and beating of transgender people (mak nyah). 9 Reports from a unpublished study being conducted on violence against LGBT people preliminarily indicate that police have extorted money from LGBT individuals, and families are using physical violence to punish gender and sexual non-conformity of female members.10

The National Commission of Human Rights of Malaysia, Suhakam, has made a commitment to promote the respect of LGBT people. Suhakam has demonstrated this commitment by specifically reprimanding members of the press who have used derogatory language against LGBT people and have affirmed that LGBT human rights must be respected. As a member of the Asia Pacific Forum (APF), which adopted the Yogyakarta Principles, an authoritative interpretation of international human rights law with regard to sexual orientation and gender identity, Suhakam has also affirmed that according to the Principles, "All people regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity are entitled to enjoy their basic rights as human beings." Furthermore, it has committed to speak out against "name-calling, bullying and infliction of bodily harm against LGBT groups."

We urge you to:

  • Lift the ban against Seksualiti Merdeka.
  • Ensure that police do not arrest or intimidate the organizers of and/or anyone connected to Seksualiti Merdeka.
  • Protect the organizers of and/or anyone connected to Seksualiti Merdeka from private actor violence and hold vigilantes who commit acts of violence on this basis accountable to the fullest extent of the law.
  • Conduct a public awareness campaign about equality before the law and non-discrimination, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
  • Train police officials with regard to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights to end arbitrary harassment of LGBT individuals, their speech and assembly.
  • Ensure that the rights to assembly, association, speech, and expression are upheld universally and not subject to arbitrary or biased perceptions of public order.

The ban on Seksualiti Merdeka represents unmitigated censorship and stifling of freedom of expression, association and exchange of ideas. As noted by members of the Islamic Renaissance Front and the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST), two of the many Islamic and non-Islamic groups that support Seksualiti Merdeka, "All Malaysians have a right to personal liberty, dignity and privacy." Rather than violating the rights of Malaysians to conduct peaceful forums, workshops and performances, IGLHRC calls upon the government to live up to Prime Minister Najib Razak's vision of a "progressive, liberal nation."

Sincerely,

Cary Alan Johnson
Executive Director

CC:
Prime Minister of Malaysia, YAB Dato’
Sri Haji Mohd Najib bin Tun Haji Abdul Razak
Deputy Prime Minister, YB Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin
The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia


Footnotes

  1. http://www.utusan.com.my/utusan/info.asp?y=2010; http://www.kosmo.com.my
  2. http://www.nst.com.my/nst/articles/16eff/Article/
  3. http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/2011/04/19/mak-nyah-want-to-be-heard/; http://www.malaysiakini.com/news/70572
  4. Information on file with the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) and confidential sources within Malaysia
  5. Section 298A of the Penal Code allows police to take action against anyone who causes "disharmony, disunity, feeling of enmity, hatred, ill-will or prejudice or for the maintenance of harmony or unity on the grounds of religion" http://www.agc.gov.my/Akta/Vol.%2012/Act%20574.pdf
  6. Section 27A(1)(C) of the Police Act empowers police to act against any activity that takes place on private premises but is deemed prejudicial to the interest and security of Malaysia or that would excite a disturbance of the peace." http://www.agc.gov.my/Akta/Vol.%207/Act%20344.pdf
  7. http://www.utusan.com.my/utusan/info.asp?y=2010; http://www.kosmo.com.my
  8. http://www.nst.com.my/nst/articles/16eff/Article/
  9. http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/2011/04/19/mak-nyah-want-to-be-heard/ AND http://www.malaysiakini.com/news/70572.
  10. Information on file with the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) and confidential sources within Malaysia