Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
All same-sex sexual conduct is illegal. The law states that sodomy and oral sex acts are “carnal intercourse against the order of nature.” In February the Federal Court nullified a Selangor State law on same-sex sexual conduct. The verdict ruled on an appeal of a Selangor State sharia court’s 2019 conviction of a man for “intercourse against the order of nature.” The Federal Court found that existing federal legislation outlawing the same conduct for the same reason preempted the state law, meaning it was unconstitutional and hence the case should not have been brought nor ruled on by the sharia court. This verdict could potentially nullify some strict anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) legislation at the state level that uses the same rationale as the federal laws. Religious and cultural taboos against same-sex sexual conduct were widespread (see section 2.a., Nongovernmental Impact).
In June then deputy religious affairs minister Ahmad Marzuk Shaary proposed that social media postings that “promote LGBTQ lifestyles” and “insult Islam” be punishable offenses under sharia. Ahmad Marzuk also announced a special multiagency government task force, including the government multimedia agency and police, to monitor posts related to LGBTQI+ issues. Activist Numan Afifi expressed concerns about the “escalation and trend towards more prosecution against the LGBTQI+ community in Malaysia,” including separate proposals in April to increase sentencing terms against LGBTQI+ offenses under sharia. SUHAKAM urged the government to reconsider its decision to impose heavier punishments for offenses associated with the LGBTQI+ community. SUHAKAM commissioner Hishamudin Yunus declared the best approach towards LGBTQI+ individuals was to “help integrate them into mainstream society” by respecting their constitutional rights to equality, privacy, and a life of dignity. Speaking to local media, the former Court of Appeal judge declared it should not be acceptable to discriminate against the community or to treat its members as criminals.
In June, 40 religious NGOs and educator groups released a joint statement protesting an online program entitled, “School as a Safe Place for Individuals of Various Sexual Orientations,” alleging the event supported the “open promotion of LGBTQI+ elements in schools.” The statement argued that schools “must be saved from elements of pro-unnatural sex orientations and transgenderism ideology that are against religious teachings.” The online program proceeded as scheduled.
Authorities often charged transgender persons with “indecent behavior” and “importuning for immoral purposes” in public. Those convicted of a first offense face a token fine and a maximum sentence of 14 days in jail. The sentences for subsequent convictions are fines and up to three months in jail. Local advocates contended that imprisoned transgender women served their sentences in prisons designated for men and that police and inmates often abused them verbally and sexually.
In January the Selangor Islamic Religious Department detained transgender social media influencer Nur Sajat for questioning regarding an online video of her saying Islamic prayers in women’s clothing in 2018. Religious department officers allegedly beat and slapped her while in custody. They subsequently charged her with “defamation of Islam,” punishable by a fine, up to three years’ imprisonment, or both, and released her on bail. Nur Sajat failed to appear for her court date on February 23, citing a medical condition. Her lawyer presented a medical leave certificate to the court the next day, but the judge rejected it. The religious department then issued a warrant for her arrest without bail and sent department officers looking for her, with police support. Nur Sajat crossed into Thailand, and UNHCR granted her refugee status.
In September the Perlis State Fatwa Committee declared that men “who appear like women” such as “cross-dressers” or transgender individuals were forbidden from entering mosques while “not in gender-conforming appearances.” Penang State mufti Wan Salim Wan Mohd Noor suggested that transgender individuals “should change their appearance” if they wanted to be in mosques or suraus (Islamic assembly buildings) so that “they do not look odd and avoid uncomfortable feelings among other worshippers.” Representatives from the NGO Sisters in Islam observed that “the fatwa and statement of the mufti not only contradicts the federal constitution” but was “not in accordance with inclusive Islamic traditions.”
A 2018 survey by a local transgender rights group reported more than two-thirds of transgender women experienced some form of physical or emotional abuse.
State religious authorities reportedly forced LGBTQI+ persons to participate in “conversion therapy,” “treatment,” or “rehabilitation” programs to “cure” them of their sexuality. In a September response to a parliamentary inquiry, Prime Minister Sabri wrote that as of June, a total of 1,733 individuals from the LGBTQI+ community had been sent to a rehabilitation camp run by the Islamic Development Department, a government agency. The camp, called the Mukhayyam Program, was a government initiative designed to change the lifestyle and sexual orientation of LGBTQI+ individuals. Sabri added that the government was serious about the issue, “as Malaysia is a country that adheres to the religion of Islam.”
In September religious authorities in Kelantan State posted fliers in public places such as shopping malls and grocery stores warning the community about LGBTQI+ persons and the need to be vigilant against their influence. On November 1, Kelantan’s Sharia Criminal Code (I) Enactment 2019 came into force, criminalizing 24 new offenses applying to Muslims. Although the code’s five offenses infringing the rights of LGBTQI+ persons – “sodomy,” “homosexual activities involving women,” “changing gender,” “crossdressing as a female,” and “crossdressing as a male” – were not among the newly added crimes, observers expressed concern about the implications for the LGBTQI+ community. The NGO Sisters in Islam declared that Kelantan first minister Ahmad Yakob’s characterization of the code as “restorative and retributive” posed “a grave concern” and asked what this meant for actions deemed crimes under the code in the context of the “looming tabling” of legislation in federal parliament allowing sharia courts to mete out stiffer penalties. The Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism, and Taoism urged the Kelantan government to review its “recently enforced” law, including “punishments against homosexual activities and a slew of other offenses.” There were no reports of the revised code being used to prosecute LGBTQI+ individuals at year’s end.
LGBTQI+ persons reported discrimination in employment, housing, and access to some government services because of their sexuality.