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Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) is appalled by the persecutory treatment the Seksualiti Merdeka festival has receiSeksualiti Merdeka has been an annual festival since 2008 and it provides a safe space for all people of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities to come together to share knowledge about human rights. WAO has supported and participated in the festival since its inception.
Negative comments by individuals about Seksualiti Merdeka reported in the press have ranged from baseless and illogical to inciting hatred against marginalised groups.
Malaysia’s Home Minister is reported to have said that the festival, which includes art exhibitions, theatre and music performances and workshops and a book launch, is a threat to national stability.
An elected member of parliament is reported to have claimed that the festival is attempting to promote ‘animal’ culture, while yet another elected representative alleged that it is ‘deviationist’.
Such misinformed opinions and blatant fear-mongering is irresponsible at best and dangerous at worst. People of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities are among the most stigmatised and vulnerable in our society. Condemnatory statements by various elements of government perpetuate discriminatory attitudes and hinder the reporting of human rights abuses from those whose rights have been violated, leading to an environment in which continued violence and oppression is condoned.
The coverage by some media outlets has been atrocious. WAO condemns the defamatory claims made against Dato’ Ambiga Sreenevasan, who was never involved in the organising of the festival, and whose role was merely to officiate the launch. As a human rights defender and a woman who has achieved much in her career, including being a pioneer member of WAO and the President of the Bar Council, Ambiga has demonstrated a lifelong unwavering commitment to social justice for all and attacks on her character are utterly unjustified and abhorrent.
The banning of the Seksualiti Merdeka festival by the police and ongoing monitoring by DBKL contravenes the fundamental liberties of Malaysians, which are enshrined in the nation’s Federal Constitution, the supreme law of the land. The Federal Constitution guarantees citizens’ right to personal liberty, which includes the right to privacy (Article 5(1)), freedom of speech and expression (Article 10(1a)) and freedom of association (Article 10(1c)).
Malaysia’s own national human rights commission, SUHAKAM, has declared that human rights are for all, and that people of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities are not to be excluded and their rights must not be violated. In this regard, the value of Seksualiti Merdeka has been affirmed by the Minister of Women, Family and Community Development who in a press statement in April this year recommended Seksualiti Merdeka as a resource for those seeking support on issues of sexuality and gender.
Scholarly research has shown that diverse gender identities and sexual orientations are found throughout the world in every culture – such diversity is not a ‘Western’ construct and has a long history in our region. There are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer people throughout the families, kampungs and cities of Malaysia and always will be.
It is time for those who have been condemning Seksualiti Merdeka to catch up with the rest of the world and accept the diversity of our population. If Malaysia, as a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, wants to hold its head up in the international arena then the persecution, stigmatisation and vilification of marginalised people must stop and the government must begin to respect and protect the human rights of all its citizens.
Women’s Aid Organisation