In a move that has been denounced by human rights groups including Amnesty International, Malaysia's Home Ministry on Wednesday issued a statement declaring the Coalition of Malaysian NGOs (Comango) illegal because the group and 39 of its 54 member-organisations are not registered with the government.
According to local media reports, the ministry claimed that the coalition’s main goals were to promote the LGBT rights.
"Fighting for this particular objective deviates from the Islamic faith. Moreover, Comango is an organisation which is not registered under the Societies Act 1966," the ministry said.
Some activists have meanwhile argued that Comango and some of its member-organisations are loose coalitions that do not require registration under the law.
The coalition is said to have angered authorities last year when it submitted a report to the United Nations condemning the Muslim-majority nation's human rights record ahead of a UN rights review. The UPR is held every four years to review the actions which United Nation members have carried out to recognise and respect human rights.
Comango is the largest coalition of Malaysian NGOs to submit a Universal Periodic Review (UPR) report in March 2013.
The wide-ranging report covered issues such as the freedom of religion, expression and participation; administration of justice; indigenous and migrants’ rights and discrimination involving race, sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI).
The 22-page report mentioned SOGI issues in three paragraphs (page 6): “Malaysia refuses to recognise SOGI rights as human rights. Lesbians, bisexuals, gays, transgendered, inter-sexed and queer persons (LBGTIQ) are vilified, face violence and are subjected to constant harassment by state and non-state actors alike.”
“Matters are made more complex when issues of sexual orientation and gender identity are inter-woven with religion – especially Islam – as Muslims are subject to both the Syariah and civil legal systems, and then politicised. The Prime Minister has labelled the LBGT community as enemies of Islam.”
Calling the ban a “disturbing assault on the rights to freedom of expression and association”, Amnesty International, whose Malaysian arm is a member-organisation of the group, denounced the move.
"Outlawing Comango is a deeply disturbing action aimed at silencing important critical voices that have advocated on the world stage for Malaysia to uphold international human rights law and standards," Hazel Galang-Folli, Malaysia researcher at Amnesty International, said in a statement.
Comango has said they will file a judicial review in the High Court to quash the ministry’s decision to ban the group.
In recent years, the government has clamped down on religious and sexual minority groups. The country’s only sexuality rights festival Seksualiti Merdeka (literally meaning sexual independence) was banned in 2011 after being held for four years.
Earlier this month, the Selangor state Islamic authorities, raided the Bible Society of Malaysia and confiscated more than 300 copies of Malay-language bibles earlier this month because they contained the word “Allah” to refer to God. The incident is the latest in the ongoing debate over whether Christians in Malaysia have the right to refer to God as Allah. In 2009, the High Court ruled that a Catholic publication was allowed to use the word however in October 2013, the decision was overturned and the ban reinstated.