Evidence of state-sponsored violence and discrimination against LGBTI people in Malaysia has been documented and established, a coalition of LGBTI rights and human rights organizations have said.
The groups range from LGBTI rights advocacy groups like Seksualiti Merdeka and the ASEAN SOGIE Caucus to human rights organizations like Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM).
The 41 local and regional groups have endorsed a statement which supports testimony made by Malaysian LGBTI human rights activist, Numan Afifi.
In March this year, Numan made an intervention at the United Nations Human Rights Council during Malaysia’s Universal Periodic Review.
He later received flak for having described state programs that were anti-LGBTI as ‘state-sponsored violence’ and was even summoned for police questioning.
Homosexuality is still illegal in Malaysia via a colonial-era law which punishes gay sex with up to 20 years in prison.
Clarifying ‘state-sponsored violence’
In their statement, which was published on Malaysian LGBTI online resource Queer Lapis, the groups back up the assertions Afifi detailed in his speech to the UN.
Their statement defines state-sponsored discrimination and violence refer to ‘any form of mistreatment, violations, and aggressions resulting from the state’s action’.
It also lays out various state-sponsored programs, including the Mukhayyam program, which has been described as a ‘rehabilitation camp’ to ‘guide and provide spiritual awareness for the LGBT community through a religious approach to return the participants “to the right path”.’
In addition, the groups point out that seminars have targeted students, school counselors, and parents, among others, to ‘encourage people to avoid committing “LGBT acts”, and encourage others to identify and curb “LGBT behaviors” within their families, social circles, and workplace’.
‘These state-sponsored activities are harmful by design as they employ rehabilitation and conversion practices which aim to curb and suppress the actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression of LGBT persons,’ the statement read.
‘They also encourage others to intervene in the private and public lives of LGBT persons.’
Homophobia remains rampant in many parts of Malaysia, and is often a deeply polarising issue.
There have been multiple instances of the Malaysian authorities clamping down on the LGBTI community. Police have raided gay clubs and arrested indivuduals who were suspected of being gay.
In one of the most controversial instances, last 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.
In addition to the threat of criminal prosecution, deep-seated cultural stigmas still face the country’s LGBTI community. Numerous religious and political figures have consistently whipped up anti-LGBTI sentiments in the Muslim majority nation.
LGBTI rights activists have repeatedly highlighted the lack of protections for LGBTI people.
Afifi has first-hand experience of how impactful anti-LGBTI sentiments can be in the country. In July 2018, he stepped down from his role as the press officer for the Youth and Sports Minister after experiencing multiple threats and continued abuse because of his sexuality