We, the undersigned 47 civil society organisations, are extremely appalled and disturbed by the arbitrary order issued by Mujahid Yusof Rawa, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department for Religious Affairs, to remove photos of Nisha Ayub and Pang Khee Teik, two human rights defenders from the Stripes and Strokes exhibition at the George Town Festival 2018 in Penang.
The photos were removed on 7 August 2018, as the photos were deemed to promote LGBT activities. The exhibition showcases people of diverse backgrounds with the Malaysia flag showing their love and pride for Malaysia.
Mujahid added that the he was informed that the exhibition “showcases pictures labelled LGBT activists and they were portrayed with the rainbow pride logo”. Mujahid also noted that promotion of LGBT activities was not ‘in line with the new government’s policy’.
The instruction to remove the photos was arbitrary and unconstitutional, as it violates multiple rights under the Federal Constitution. This includes Articles 5 and 8 of the Federal Constitution, which guarantee the right to live with dignity and freedom from gender-based discrimination. Article 10 of the Federal Constitution protects the freedom of expression, association and assembly of all persons regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.
In addition, Muhajid must also clearly cite the policies that are used to remove the photos, instead of vaguely and arbitrarily stating that the photos are not in line with the new government’s policy. The Federal Constitution exists to ensure that the tyranny of the majority over marginalised groups and people does not occur.
As Mujahid has stated on multiple occasions, LGBTIQ persons are citizens and their human rights are protected under the Federal Constitution. As such, this protection must extend to all areas, and not just selective areas the Pakatan Harapan (PH) administration is comfortable with.
The removal of the photos of the two activists also effectively restricts human rights defenders from carrying out their activism and work. The Declaration on Human Rights Defenders explicitly outlines the duties of the state in promoting, fulfilling and protecting the rights of human rights defenders and creating a conducive environment for the promotion of human rights.
The Cedaw Committee in its concluding observations to Malaysia in March 2018 also noted its concern over reprisals and restrictions faced by women human rights defenders, in particular those advocating for Muslim women’s rights, for the rights of lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex women, and for democratic reforms. The PH administration, as the present day government, has the obligation to implement the concluding observations and recommendations by the Cedaw Committee.
We also question the purview of Mujahid Rawa’s portfolio. It appears as if LGBTIQ-related issues are placed under the Prime Minister’s Department for religious affairs. What is even more concerning is that the department’s approach on LGBTIQ issues are centred on prevention, rehabilitation and treatment as well as the enforcement of laws.
All of these methods have been criticised for not being evidence and rights-based, and for its harmful impact and damage to Malaysian citizens. We are concerned the policies and practices adopted by the Prime Minister’s department on LGBTIQ persons will further regress the human rights of all persons.
After the 2018 general election, there has been an increase in discrimination, threats and violence towards LGBTIQ persons and allies of LGBTIQ persons. As reported by Nisha and Pang on their respective social media platforms, their photos received thousands of hateful and violent threats and messages, including threats of rape, death and torture.
We are concerned the removal of the photos completely misses the actual issues that needs to be addressed – the increasing discrimination, threats and violence against LGBTIQ persons. Moreover, this act of censorship and restriction will only embolden those who hold anti-LGBTIQ views and increase discrimination and violence against LGBTIQ persons and allies with impunity.
We call on the Pakatan Harapan administration to engage LGBTIQ human rights groups and uphold its obligations in protecting, fulfilling and promoting the rights of all persons, especially persons and groups that are marginalised and stigmatised. We believe LGBTIQ persons are integral to Malaysia’s inclusion of all forms of diversity.
1. Agora Society
2. Aliran Kesedaran Negara (Aliran)
3. All Women’s Action Society (Awam)
4. Association of Women Lawyers ( AWL )
5. Centre for Combating Corruption and Cronyism (C4)
6. Centre for Independent Journalism, Malaysia
7. Community Action Network (CAN)
10. In Between Cultura
11. Johor Yellow Flame (JYF)
12. Knowledge and Rights with Young people through Safer Spaces (KRYSS)
13. Justice for Sisters
14. KL & Sel Chinese Association Women Division
15. KL & Sel Chinese Association Youth Section
16. Lingkaran Islam Tradisional (LIT)
17. Malaysia Design Archive
18. Malaysia Muda
19. Malaysian Atheists and Secular Humanists (Mash)
20. Monitoring Sustainability of Globalisation
21. National Human Rights Society of Malaysia (Hakam)
22. Neighborhood Performance Group
23. North South Initiative
24. Parti Sosialis Malaysia
25. Pelangi Campaign
26. Penang Forum
27. Penang Heritage Trust
28. Pergerakan Tenaga Akademik Malaysia (Gerak)
29. Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (Empower)
30. Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor (PSWS)
31. PLUHO, People Like Us, Hang Out!
33. Projek Dialog
34. PT Foundation
35. Pusat Komas
36. Queer Academics, Students and Supporters Alliance (Quassa)
37. Ruang Kongsi
38. Sabah Women’s Action Resource Group (Sawo)
39. Sisters in Islam, SIS
40. Society for the Promotion of Human Rights (Proham)
43. Transmen of Malaysia
45. Writer Alliance for Media Independence (Wami)
46. Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)
47. Women Development Organisation of Malaysia