A bid to un-ban Malaysia’s only sexuality rights festival is now being fought by the country’s government.
The Seksualiti Merdeka festival – comprising workshops, forums, talks, and performances – has been held peacefully since 2008 with the support of local and international organizations alike, including the Malaysian Bar Council, sexual health group PT Foundation, women’s advocacy group Empower, Amnesty International and the United Nations.
It is marketed as a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex event, aiming to empower people and champion equality.
But all the functions of the festival group were banned in November by Deputy Inspector-General of Police Datuk Seri Khalid Abu Bakar and two other senior police officials. They argued it could destroy religious freedom, create disharmony, and threaten public order and national security.
Five members of the annual Seksualiti Merdeka’s organizing committee filed a judicial review in December at the Kuala Lumpur High Court against the ban.
But yesterday (10 January), the Malaysian Attorney-General’s Chambers raised a preliminary objection against that judicial review application to nullify the ban.
The leave hearing was scheduled for yesterday to decide whether the case merits further proceedings, but the applicants’ counsels applied to adjourn it following the Chambers’ objection. The court then fixed 21 Feb to hear the objection.
According to Noor Hisham, the three respondents’ counsel, they filed the objection because the ‘so-called decision (on the ban) was not amenable for judicial review.’
‘The rights advocated by the activities in the programme by Seksualiti Merdeka are not rights that are recognized under the Federal Constitution,’ he said.
But the committee described the claims as ‘illogical and ridiculous’ and the ban absolutely ‘unconstitutional, illegal and undemocratic’. They stressed the authorities had not given them any chance to explain or defend themselves prior to the ban.
“We are truly outraged by this blatant abuse of power against innocent citizens,” they said in a statement, noting the ban has breached articles eight and 10 of the Federal Constitution.
Article eight provides for equality before the law and in legal protection, while article 10 guarantees freedom of speech, assembly and association.
The statement added: ‘The ban, the protests against our activities and all attempts to prevent us from expressing ourselves are irrefutable evidence of the discrimination faced by LGBTIQ Malaysians.
‘We are not surprised by those who disagreed with us. In fact, we support their freedom to disagree with us just as we support everyone’s freedom to disagree. But by demanding that we be shut down, they have shown that they don’t understand the meaning of equality and will compromise the very right they are exercising. Their overwhelming existence and the imbalance of power in their favour show why we needed such a space for education, understanding and empowerment.’
They also say that media misrepresentation had exasperated public misunderstanding of them.
Human right activists such as Datuk Paduka Marina Mahathir were said to have lambasted reports describing the event as ‘free sex festival’, and threatened to sue if the matter was not clarified.