Thursday, February 25, 2021

Rights group warns against targeting LGBT after spectre of heavier punishments

Lawyers for Liberty urges the government to follow the example of other Muslim-majority countries that have recognised the rights of the transgender community.

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Rights group Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) today hit out at deputy minister Ahmad Marzuk Shaary over his recent remarks on the LGBT community, taking him to task for his statement that religious enforcers have been instructed to take action against those who cross-dress.

LFL coordinator Zaid Malek said this indicates that such enforcers have been instructed to specifically target those from the transgender Muslim community, adding that this is in breach of Article 8 of the constitution which forbids discrimination on the basis of gender.

“We urge the government to not take such a restrictive view of Islamic law and follow the footsteps of other Muslim-majority countries that have already recognised the legitimate rights of the transgender community,” he said, listing countries including Egypt and Iran which allow gender reassignment surgeries and Pakistan which has enacted laws to protect the rights of transgender persons.

“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,” he added.

Yesterday, Marzuk who is deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of religious affairs said the government had not ruled out the possibility of amending the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965 or Act 355 to provide for heavier punishments for the LGBT community.

He said the current punishments under the act, which provides for imprisonment of three years, a fine of RM5,000 and six strokes of the cane, did not appear to be having much effect.

He also spoke of stern action taken against those who cross-dress, saying all state religious agencies and enforcers have been instructed to take action against those from the LGBT community “who do not behave accordingly”.

Calling this “targeted harassment by the government”, Zaid said it would also be in clear violation of Article 8 as LGBT Muslims are entitled to equality before the law and deserve protection from laws that target them solely due to their sexual orientation.

“In a time when the country is in crisis due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it is disappointing that the deputy minister chooses to focus on the vilification of the LGBT community, which is nothing more than a tired and cheap political ploy to detract from the real issues currently affecting Malaysian citizens,” he said in a statement.

“We strongly advise the authorities not to 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/transgender community serves to help no one, and will only harm the very citizens that it is supposed to protect.”

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