Malaysian Government Is Set To Strengthen Repressive LGBTQ+ Sanctions

TW: Homophobia, transphobia, State-sanctioned torture and oppression

Putrajaya, the federal administrative nerve-centre of Malaysia, is contemplating a stronger crackdown on those that identify as LGBTQ+, according to Malaysia’s Deputy Minister of Religious Affairs, Ahmad Marzuk Shaary.

In his statement, Shaary declared that the existing laws of the country are not adequately ‘effective’. He said: “Seeing the situation in the country now involving the LGBT group, the government might consider amending Act 355”.

“By doing this, the government hopes it would prevent them from committing more offences,” he added.

Act 355 was enacted in 1965 to protect Malaysia’s basic secular nature. It restricts the punishments that can be levied by Syariah courts. It allows Syariah courts to impose a maximum sentence of one year in prison and a fine of up to RM 1,000 (US$250). In 1984, the Act was amended to increase the ceiling on the sentence to three years in jail, and impose fines of up to RM 5,000 (USD 1,240) as well as caning of up to six strokes.

Until 2018, according to various human rights campaigners, Malaysian courts had never actually executed caning sentences for same-sex conduct of relationships. However, in September 2018, the Terengganu state levied a caning sentence on two women convicted of having same-sex relations. Following that, in November 2019, the Selangor Syariah court sentenced five men to fines, detention and caning.

Ahmad Marzuk has said that he would ensure that the following two amendments to the act in the days to come:

  • gender change would be made a specific offence under Act 355 in Shariah Criminal law.
  • social media content related to all acts of the opposite sex deemed as indecent and obscene will also be placed as one of the types of Syariah online offences.

Ahmad Marzuk said that a separate task force was set up to deal with problems relating to LGBT Muslims.

These Sharia laws, which are applied by the Islamic Religious Departments and courts of the State, are only applicable to Muslims, according to Human Rights Watch. Malaysia’s Islamic group is pushing for more areas of legislation to be dealt with under the Islamic legal code, raising fears among religious minorities, prompting promises that they will not be affected.

Religious legal systems in Malaysia

There are two Malaysias. One for the Muslim majority-the other for Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and non-Muslims. For instance, Malaysians do not have the right to choose their religion. It is written in the constitution that all ethnic Malays must, by definition, be Muslim.

Thus, Malays could face harsher punishments than other faiths in the country.

However, the Human Rights Commission argued that all kinds of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, including whipping, are banned under international human rights standards, in particular the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

Associate Human Rights Watch LGBTQ+ Director Neela Ghoshal spoke of the disturbing reports surrounding Malaysia’s changing laws: “Malaysia’s state and federal statutes that criminalize 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,” she said.

Ghoshal also strongly encouraged the government to rethink its actions: “Instead of enhancing penalties for actions that harm no one, the government should repeal such penalties.”

Moreover, Malaysia has a federal judicial structure, with Islamic courts dealing with certain problems for Muslim people, and Sharia law developed by individual states. For instance the state of Selangor like Putrajaya outside Kuala Lumpur had enforced its own prohibition against gay sex, so-called “intercourse against the order of nature”.

Nur Sajat

Discrimination, hate crimes and violence are destroying the lives of LGBTQ+ Malaysians. Consensual relationships or gender non-conforming beliefs and practices are commonly criminalized throughout the country. One such example is the heated case of celebrity entrepreneur Nur Sajat– whose gender has been the topic of debate for years – is being prosecuted by the Islamic Religious Department of Selangor (JAIS) for allegedly insulting Islam or causing Islam to be mocked either by mocking or blaspheming the religion and its affiliation.

Queerphobia in Malaysia is usually fueled by religious beliefs as well as repetition and reliance on pre-defined “family values.” Homosexuality is often required to be disguised or concealed in Tanah Air (the motherland).

Transgender activist Nisha Ayub said, “In Malaysia, transgender people are living in fear of being targeted and abused only because of who we are. Aren’t we part of the company? Aren’t we supposed to be protected by laws just as others?”


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