Malaysia: Prime Minister's Remarks a threat to human rights of all

On August 19, 2015 at the International Islamic Moderation seminar in Bangi Selangor, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak  cited Islam as justification for his government’s exclusion in protecting the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals. Razak said that, “Malaysia should define and defend human rights in the context of Islam even if it is not internationally acceptable.” This came as no surprise since Prime Minister Razak has been consistent in expressing his discriminatory and intolerant views towards LGBT people in Malaysia for years.

This statement, is no different from Najib Razak’s earlier statements condemning LGBT people.  In 20121 during the launch of his collection of speeches and statements on Islam titled, “The Agenda of Islam in National Transformation” on his website2, the Prime Minister said, “any deviant aspects such as liberalism, pluralism and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) would not have a place in the country.” In 2014 during the 57th national-level Quran Recital Assembly3&4 he categorized LGBT rights as part of a deviant culture that will destroy the sanctity of Islam.

The Malaysian government, along with Brunei and Singapore, rejected the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity in the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration, resulting in the adoption of a regional human rights instrument that intentionally excluded human rights protections for LGBT persons. Within Malaysia,  Razak’s statement fuels discrimination, disrespect, and even physical assaults against LGBT people5.

During his tenure as Prime Minister, LGBT students have been rounded up and sent to camps for ‘conversion’ of gay and effeminate boys6, the human rights arts and education festival, Seksualiti Merdeka, was shut down and banned in 2011, and religious officers have been shown to repeatedly abuse Mak Nyah (female-to-male transsexuals and trans gender persons)8.

Malaysia criminalizes ‘carnal intercourse against the order of nature’ (Section 377, Malaysian Penal Code). Several provisions under Malaysia’s sharia laws criminalize gender non-conformity (“male posing as a woman” or “female posing as a man”), lesbianism and sexual relations between men.

Nisha Ayub, Transgender Program Manager of PT Foundation in Malaysia, shared experience of discrimination to an audience of 3,000 activists in January 2012 at the Creating Change: The National Conference for LGBT Equality: “I was arrested by religious officers when I was 21 years old, in my going of changing towards a trans woman. I was put in a male lockup. I was treated badly. Tortured. Discriminated against. And of course, I was sexually abused in the jail. There was no one to help me. I couldn’t say anything because in Malaysia, if you are a transgender person, you have no rights. You are stripped naked. When I say stripped naked, I mean it. Ok. I was forced to walk naked in front of all the officers, just for them to make fun of me.9

The documented experience of violence and discrimination faced by LGBT people in Malaysia should be a turning point for the government and the people of Malaysia to rethink if Prime Minister Razak excluding the human rights of LGBT people is really a noble and a humane path for Malaysians to follow. 

5 KRYSS, “On the Record: Violence Against Lesbian and Bisexual Women and Transgender Persons in Malaysia” 107-112, Grace Poore “Violence: Through the Lens of Lesbians, Bisexual Women and Trans People in Asia”, IGLHRC, 2014.  http://iglhrc.org/sites/iglhrc.org/files/MalaysiaCC_0.pdf, http://iglhrc.org/content/violence-through-lens-lbt-people-asia