Malaysian states to punish homosexuality

The Guardian

Two Malaysian states are set to change their Islamic laws to punish Muslims who engage in homosexuality, increasing the prospect of gay Muslims being punished under both federal and state religious laws and adding to concerns about rising intolerance.

In Malaysia, homosexuality is punishable by law by caning and up to 20 years in prison, but the amendments planned by the Pahang and Malacca religious authorities would give the state governments additional powers.

If the proposed changes come into force, jail terms could run consecutively if a gay Muslim person is punished under both laws.

Malacca’s chief minister, Mohd Ali Rustam, said the state would review its Islamic law provisions to allow Muslim gay men and lesbians to be tried in court and punished by a prison sentence or a fine to “deter” homosexuality.

“So many people like to promote human rights, even up to the point they want to allow lesbian activities and homosexuality,” Ali told Reuters.

“In Islam, we cannot do all this. It is against Islamic law,” he said, adding that gay Muslim people would also be required to attend counselling.

Ali, who is also the Malacca Islamic religious department chairman, said the proposed penalties would also apply to those who “supported” homosexuality.

“We want to put it in the enactment so that we can enforce it and bring them to our sharia court. Then we can charge them for promoting or supporting these illegal activities,” he said.

On Thursday, the leading cleric of central Pahang state was quoted in the Star newspaper as saying it would also amend its Islamic laws to allow for action against homosexuality.

“Islam prohibits deviant sexual orientation or behaviour,” Abdul Rahman Osman was quoted as saying. “Appropriate action should be taken to address these problems. We fear that this abnormal behaviour will be regarded as a norm.”

In Malaysia, religion is within the respective states’ purview and the authorities do not need federal government approval to effect legislative changes.

Last week, organisers were forced to cancel an annual sexuality rights festival in the capital, Kuala Lumpur, after police threatened to crack down on the event, claiming it could create unease and public disorder.

About 60% of the country’s 28 million population are Muslims, and Islamic law tenets are used as an official yardstick for the behaviour of followers. Nevertheless, Muslims often throng Kuala Lumpur bars that serve alcohol.

Extramarital sex is frowned upon and same-gender relationships often draw criticism, although the rise of alternative media channels has resulted in a greater openness in debates about homosexuality.

But public discussions involving sexuality often assume a conservative veneer. Films and music are also heavily censored to remove explicit content, and gay people and transvestites complain of professional and social discrimination.