We, the undersigned, call upon the Malaysian Government to stop policing the moral and sexual practices and behaviour of Malaysian citizens; and violating the human rights of Malaysians by persecuting them for engaging in behaviours such as cross-dressing and (for women) dressing in 'unacceptable' ways; or sexual practices such as consensual anal and oral sex.
There are a whole host of laws which are used by the State to control and regulate the sexual and moral behaviours and practices of Malaysians. These include:
• Section 377A of the Penal Code which defines sodomy (or anal intercourse) and fellatio (oral sex) as 'unnatural offences'. Those convicted of these acts – whether in consensual or non-consensual situations – can be sentenced to up to 20 years jail and whipped.
• The Minor Offences Act which can be used against those whom the authorities view as behaving "inappropriately" in public.
• Syariah laws which criminalise 'khalwat' (being in close proximity with a person of the opposite sex who is not a relation) and 'zina' (adultery); as well as cross-dressing and homosexual sex.
While we understand that some people disapprove of these acts or behaviours, we believe that these are essentially matters of personal conscience, and it should be left to the persons concerned to decide on them for themselves. It is not the State's role to play moral guardian to the people or to dictate to them how they should express their sexuality.
There have been many instances in which the State has persecuted Malaysians on the grounds of alleged sexual or moral misconduct. These include:
• The 12-day jail term imposed on four women dancers at Zouk Nightclub in 2004, who were charged with behaving inappropriately in public.
• The raid at Zouk Nightclub in 2005 where religious authorities rounded up Muslim patrons and detained them at their headquarters for up to 10 hours on the grounds assessing whether they had flouted Islamic laws of behaviour. The women patrons, for example, were forced to parade in front of the religious officers, ostensibly so that the officers could ascertain whether they were dressed appropriately according to Islamic regulations.
• The persistent harassment of transsexuals and transvestites by the police and religious officers. The case of Ayu, a male-to-female transsexual who was seriously assaulted by state religious officers in Malacca in 2007, to the point that she had to have emergency abdominal operation, is an example of the brutality which members of this community have been subjected to by the authorities. The recurrent raids of functions and gatherings organized by transsexual communities also constitute serious harassment.
• The arrest of politician Anwar Ibrahim in 1998 and 2008 on the charge of sodomy.
We see such incidents as constituting a violation of human rights by the State; and as being in direct contravention to international standards such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that no one should be discriminated against for any reason.
We stress that this issue is a larger one than that of 'gay rights.' The laws on sodomy and fellatio, for example, means that heterosexuals who engage in these practices can also be targeted, not just homosexuals. And whether or not one is directly affected by these laws, the fact that the State is violating the human rights of many citizens on the grounds of sexual and moral misconduct should be of concern to all who support social justice.
We call upon the Malaysian Government to:
• abolish all laws that criminalise sexual practices between consenting adults.
• dismantle State institutions or initiatives that were established with the purpose of regulating and monitoring people's sexual or moral behaviour in consensual situations.
• cease all persecution of and discrimination against sexual minorities such as homosexuals, bisexuals, intersexed, transsexuals and transvestites, and transgendered people.
Alina Rastam, Shanon Shah and tan beng hui
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