KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA — The “vilification” of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in Malaysia is “nothing more than a tired and cheap political ploy” to divert the public’s attention from pressing issues currently affecting Malaysian citizens, said Lawyers For Liberty (LFL).

The rights group made its statement in response to Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Religious Affairs) Ahmad Marzuk Shaary’s remarks regarding the possibility of strengthening the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965 or Act 355 to provide for harsher punishments against LGBT people.

Mr Marzuk said that the current punishment “does not seem to have much of an effect” on LGBT people. Act 355 currently provides for imprisonment of three years, a fine of RM5,000 and six strokes of the cane.

In a statement on Wednesday (20 January), LFL said that the move to use the Malaysian LGBT community as a distraction is “especially more obvious when we consider the fact that Malaysian Muslims are still in a state of shock and confusion by the 40-year long Halal Meat Cartel Scandal that was exposed quite recently”.

Established local daily New Straits Times recently shocked the country with its exposé of the alleged activities of a syndicate behind the smuggling of non-certified meat into the country, which is then sold under the guise of Halal meat.

Further investigations by NST revealed that some of the non-certified products include horse meat and kangaroo meat.

In its statement today, LFL said that the Deputy Minister was also unclear on how heavier punishments would address the supposed “wrongdoings” committed by the LGBT community.

“What is clear is that this is targeted harassment by the government which intends to invade and harass the rights and privacy of alleged LGBT Muslims, causing them undue hardship,” said the NGO.

Such targeted harassment, LFL warned, would be “in clear violation of Article 8 of the Federal Constitution”, as “LGBT Muslims are entitled to equality before the law and therefore deserve protection from laws that target them solely due to their sexual orientation” and/or gender identity.

LFL also criticised Mr Marzuk’s revelation on religious enforcers taking sterner action against those who wear clothing that does not resemble their biological sex.

This, said the group, is a sign that “enforcers have been instructed to target transgender Muslims specifically”.

“Again, the government is wilfully breaching Article 8, that expressly forbids any discrimination on the basis of an individual’s gender,” said LFL.

The NGO urged the Malaysian government to “follow the footsteps of other Muslim majority countries that have already recognised the legitimate rights of the transgender community”.

“Egypt and Iran have issued fatwas since the 1980s that allows gender reassignment surgeries, and even Pakistan has enacted the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act in 2018 which is a formal recognition of transgender rights in Pakistan.

“It is obvious therefore that the recognition and protection of the transgender community is not contrary to the precepts of Islam and is in fact mandatory under our Federal Constitution,” said LFL.

The authorities, said LFL, should not “resort to periodically using the LGBT community as a convenient punching bag to create the illusion of rectitude and false piety in certain political parties that comprise the government”.

The vilification of the LGBT community “will only harm the very citizens that it is supposed to protect”, said the group.

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