Malaysia: Human Rights Watch said today that the Malaysian government should renounce a plan by a cabinet minister to raise criminal penalties against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) citizens. The effort to increase criminal penalties against LGBT Malaysians is the latest in a series of measures to cement the Perikitan Nasional government’s anti-LGBT, anti-human rights stance.
The proposed amendment submitted by Ahmad Marzuk Shaary, Deputy Minister for Religious Affairs in the Department of the Prime Minister, to the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act (Act 355) would allow state Sharia (Syariah) courts to impose harsher sentences for same-sex activity than the current maximum Sharia sentence allowed under federal law.
Marzuk also suggested codifying criminal offences as Sharia that alter one’s gender and create or post obscene and indecent social media material, including pictures of non-normative gender identity.
The state and federal laws of Malaysia criminalizing LGBT people are already out of international law limits, and the government seems to be slipping even further into its disregard for human rights,” said Neela Ghoshal, Human Rights Watch’s associate LGBT rights director.” “The government should repeal such penalties instead of enhancing penalties for actions that harm no one.”
Among the many laws and policies in Malaysia that discriminate against LGBT citizens are Malaysia’s state Sharia laws, which prosecute sexual same-sex relations as well as gender nonconformity. Most illegal activities in the entire world are protected by Malaysia’s federal penal code.
State Sharia rules, implemented by the Islamic Religious Departments of the State and tried in Sharia courts, apply only to Muslims, who make up about 60% of the population of Malaysia.
Same-sex relations and gender non-conformity are criminalized by all 13 states and federal territories. Furthermore, section 377 of the federal penal code punishes any form of anal or oral sex with imprisonment of up to 20 years and compulsory caning.
Act 355, adopted in 1965 to safeguard the fundamental secular character of Malaysia, restricts the sentences that Sharia courts may impose. Maximum sentences of one year in prison and a fine of up to RM 1,000 (US$250) may be levied by Sharia courts. The Act was amended in 1984 to increase the maximum sentence that can be levied by Sharia courts to three years in jail, fines of up to RM 5,000 (US$1,240) and up to six strokes canning.