A prominent Malaysian LGBTI rights activist has accused the authorities of intimidation following a statement he gave to the United Nations (UN).
Numan Afifi was questioned by police on Friday (26 April) after an online backlash over his comments to the UN.
The openly gay rights advocate pledged to keep ‘[speaking] out against discrimination’ following his arrest.
Last month, Afifi gave a speech to the UN Human Rights Council in the Swiss city of Geneva.
The 27-year-old read out a statement composed by a coalition of Malaysian LGBTI rights groups.
The statement was critical of the country’s record on LGBTI rights. A number of people attacked Afifi online following his speech.
‘It was typical by the police’
Afifi is the president of LGBTI rights group, the Pelangi Campaign. He was detained by the police for an hour on Friday last week in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur.
‘It was typical by the police. They tend to intimidate human rights defenders – we’ve seen that with organizers of other causes too,’ he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation following his release.
‘This is a pattern by authorities … it is their tactics.’
He added: ‘I will keep speaking out because this is about our lives in this country – we need to speak out against discrimination.’
The Kuala Lumpur police have yet to comment on the activist’s questioning.
Afifi had presented his statement to the UN’s Council for its Universal Periodic Review of Malaysia. The council reviews the human rights record of each UN member state every five years.
In his statement, Afifi commended Malaysia’s government for making moves to combat bullying in schools. Rights groups have said the move could help protect LGBTI students.
However, he said the authorities had fallen short in working towards further anti-sexual discrimination protection.
Afifi also criticized government officials’ response to LGBTI people who took part in a march celebrating Internation Women’s Day.
Religious Affairs Minister Mujahid Yusof Rawa described the presence of the LGBTI groups as ‘a misuse of democratic space’
In an interview with Gay Star News last year, Afifi said: ‘There are no real government actions done to protect the [LGBTI] minority, we are expecting that there will be more hate crimes against the LGBT community in Malaysia.’
Afifi made headlines in July last year after he was forced to step down from his role as press officer for the Youth and Sports Minister due to the threats and abuse he received because of his sexuality.
Growing anti-LGBTI sentiments
There have been growing concerns regarding the persecution of LGBTI people in Malaysia over the past year.
Homosexuality in Malaysia remains illegal, and homosexual sex is punishable by 20-years in prison.
In August the religious affairs minister ordered the removal of the portraits of two LGBTI rights activists from an art festival in Penang.
In response, government ministers largely gave confusing or vague statements, which left neither side appeased.
LGBTI minorities have also experienced numerous cases of violence. This includes the murder of two trans women the western city of Klang. In December, a video began circulating online, apparently showing a group of men attacking an apparent same-sex couple.
The Malaysian authorities have also clamped down on the LGBTI community.
In one of the most controversial instances, in September two women were caned in the heavily conservative state of Terengganu for allegedly being in a same-sex relationship. Numerous human rights groups condemned the caning.
Police also raided a well-known gay bar in Kuala Lumpur for the first time in its 30-year history.
Polling have found that the majority of Malaysians do not support LGBTI rights. A 2013 Pew Research survey found that 86% of Malaysians believed that homosexuality should not be socially accepted, with only 9% believing it should.