In a first for the country, Malaysia’s censors have begun blocking access to websites about HIV and LGBTI information.
The Sinar Project, a Malaysian media watchdog first noticed the restricted access to Utopia-Asia.com in early May. But people had begun noting they could not access the website in Malaysia from April.
Utopia-Asia.com is a Bangkok based HIV and LGBTI travel information hub. It’s the longest running website of its kind in the region.
‘I’m currently at Kuala Lumpur International Airport and can’t access Utopia-Asia.com with either airport Wi-Fi or Starbucks Wi-Fi. Come on Starbucks, why are you blocking the LGBT community? Oddly, gay dating apps with much raunchier content are let through! Feeling angry.’ wrote one Facebook user on Utopia’s social media page.
Researchers found Internet Service Provider TMNet rerouted Utopia Asia’s domain name and displayed a fake messaged that the website no longer existed.
‘Is your website down? I cannot access Utopia-Asia.com in Malaysia any longer,’ wrote a Facebook user.
‘My browser displays a ‘server error 404 – file or directory not found’ message.
It is illegal to be homosexual or transgender in Malaysia and while the country has banned the positive portrayal of LGBTI people in TV or film, this is the first example of restricting content online.
Why Utopia is important
Founded 24 years ago, Utopia Asia has been a critical resource for people in the region who often can’t access sexual health information anywhere else.
‘It’s telling that Malaysia, rather than banning hardcore sex sites, decided to bully an LGBT community page recommended over the years by TIME Magazine, The New York Times, and Lonely Planet,’ Utopia Asia founder John Goss told PR Web.
‘This move is especially egregious, because Utopia – a free, non-pornographic public resource – is designed to help improve people’s lives.
‘Malaysia should worry about the corrosion of human rights and rising religious intolerance, rather than which healthcare providers, hotels or restaurants welcome gays. Otherwise they will be implicated in the growing humanitarian crisis in their own back yard and that’s going to dent their tourism dollars.’
Will things change under Mahatir Mohamad?
Malaysians went to the polls on 9 May and handed a surprising victory to 92-year-old Mahatir Mohamad.
It is not clear whether LGBTI people will fare better under Mohamad. But it is not likely give his track record of comments on gay people.
After his political rival Anwar Ibrahim was convicted of sodomy, Mohamad said Malaysia would not be safe with a gay man in charge.
‘Imagine a gay PM… Nobody will be safe,’ he said at a conference in 2005.
Mohamad was clear where he stood on the incarceration of gay people.
‘I’m a Muslim, we don’t accept that,’ he told The Guardian last week.
‘You can be a liberal and accept same-sex marriage and all that, but that’s your business. We are very orthodox people.’