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Human Rights Watch to Malaysian government: allow sexualities festival a day in court

Uncertainty whether decision to ban Seksualiti Merdeka sexual diversity festival will be reviewed in court
Kuala Lumpur High Court where the review of the ban of the Seksualiti Merdeka festival was due to be heard

Human Rights Watch released a statement yesterday urging the Malaysian government to allow a judicial review of the 2011 ban of the country's sexual diversities festival, Seksualiti Merdeka.

The Kuala Lumpur High Court had tabled the hearing for last Tuesday (21 February) and the festivals organisers were in court on that day, but there are now reports the case will be heard tomorrow (1 March) and the government is arguing that because the dates of the festival have now passed, the arguments are now moot.

But yesterday’s statement from Human Rights Watch insists the Malaysian government must allow the festival's organisers to assert their rights in court. ‘Without a court review of the legality of the ban, the status and future of the annual festival will be uncertain,’ the statement said.

The organisers of Seksualiti Merdeka brought the case to the high court following the ban of the LGBT festival due to be celebrated last November.

The festival, that includes talks workshops, forums and performances, has been celebrated peacefully in an art gallery since 2008, but a few days before the 2011 festival, four of the organisers were called into questioning by the police. Afterwards the police announced the ban of the festival arguing it could destroy religious freedom, create disharmony and threaten public order and national security.

The Human Rights Watch statement went on to say: ‘Malaysia’s criminal law encourages discrimination against Malaysia’s LGBT population’ and that as a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council the country must uphold the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that affirms all human beings rights to freedom of expression and association.

‘The judicial review sought by Seksualiti Merdeka is a critical step in ensuring that the government does not use its power to arbitrarily ban peaceful public events,’ said Graeme Reid, director of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights programme at Human Rights Watch. ‘This case should be of concern to all Malaysians committed to defending their rights under the Malaysian constitution and international human rights law.’

A recent spate of gang attacks on transsexuals in the country gives more worrying evidence that homophobia is deeply entrenched in Malaysian society. 

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