Pakatan debates Zahid Hamidi’s ‘Sodom and Gomorah’ statement

(FMT) – Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi has drawn scorn for attributing the recent earthquake and tsunami in Palu, Indonesia, to God’s wrath over LGBT activities there.

Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights chairman Charles Santiago said Zahid was showing his disrespect to religion and to the disaster victims when he made the controversial remark in the Dewan Rakyat yesterday.

He said Zahid, in ignoring established knowledge about the role of climate change in natural disasters, was showing that his legal and political troubles had placed him in a “misguided state”.

“He’s been put into a corner,” Santiago told FMT. “So he’s using every possible way to strike a chord with the religious minded to gain support in light of his pending court cases.”

Zahid was charged last week with a slew of graft-related offences.

In the Dewan Rakyat yesterday, he asked for clarity on the effectiveness of outreach programmes aimed at the LGBT community, saying he feared that LGBT activities might invite God’s punishment on the nation.

In response, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Mujahid Yusof Rawa said 1,450 people had so far voluntarily taken part in outreach programmes organised by the Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim).

Responding to a supplementary question, Mujahid said there was scriptural evidence that divine punishment on Sodom and Gomorrah came about because homosexuals were unashamedly open in their behaviour.

“The LGBT situation in Malaysia is still under control,” he said. “However, it is not easy to draw examples. We need to discuss how to tackle the issue to ensure that bad things do not become rampant.”

Santiago criticised Mujahid for allegedly showing an attitude similar to Zahid’s.

Human rights lawyer N Surendan meanwhile described Zahid’s remark as “one of the most distasteful, prejudiced and stupid statements ever made” by a current Umno politician.

“It is highly offensive to the victims of the tragedy and our neighbouring country,” he said. “It’s a transparent and clumsy attempt at political posturing, made to spark hatred against Malaysian LGBTs.”

Siti Kasim, a member of the Malaysian Bar Human Rights Committee, said she saw Zahid as typical of a politician who would use religion “after having nothing left to use”.

She also questioned Mujahid’s knowledge of issues affecting the LGBT community. “Mujahid must speak to doctors to find out more about rehabilitation and whether it works or not,” she said.

She said the beliefs held by Zahid and Mujahid would not hold if one were to consider San Francisco and Sydney. She spoke of the two cities as being so far safe from natural disasters despite their location in earthquake zones and their reputation as two of the world’s LGBT capitals.

Suhakam commissioner Jerald Joseph said he was “surprised” by Zahid’s “stretch of imagination” in linking natural disasters with LGBT practices. He had no reason to do so when asking his question, he added.

Joseph said he had no objection to rehabilitation “as long as no coercion or any form of subjugation is involved”.

Transmen of Malaysia founder Dorian Wilde questioned the veracity of Mujahid’s claim that rehabilitation programmes had yielded positive results. He said the international community was saying otherwise.

Referring to conversion therapies under Jakim’s Mukhayyam programme, Wilde said they had been “deemed to be ineffective and a form of torture” by various international rights and medical bodies.

“Are the positive results cited by Mujahid due to the efficacy of the programme in changing something innate or are they due to the tying of the programme to financial benefits and social acceptance?”

The Mukhayyam is a three-day camp for LGBTs. It was introduced in 2011 and is held eight times a year.

LGBT rights activist Gavin Chow said he was against the “wasting of funds” on  rehabilitation programmes.

Transgender rights activist Nisha Ayub pointed out in a Facebook post that Indonesia lies on the Pacific Ring of Fire and suggested that MPs spend time doing research with the aim of recommending an early warning system.

Hannah Yeoh, the deputy minister of women, family and community development, was one of the first to criticise Zahid for his remark. She said on Twitter that the Umno president should have instead highlighted the “pressing” issue of corruption.