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Today, Women’s Aid Organisation in Malaysia, in solidarity with the “One Day, One Struggle” global campaign organised by the Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights in Muslim Societies (CSBR), calls for an end to the persecution, stigmatisation and vilification of people of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities in Malaysia.
As a women’s group in Malaysia campaigning for women’s human rights and gender equality in a multicultural society, we join hundreds on this day in countries such as Indonesia, Lebanon, Pakistan, Tunisia and Palestine who are taking action against violations on the basis of sexuality.
On 3 November 2011, the Malaysian police banned a festival called Seksualiti Merdeka (sexuality independence). Seksualiti Merdeka has been held annually 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.
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.
WAO is appalled by the persecutory treatment the Seksualiti Merdeka festival has received from individuals, including government representatives, media outlets and the police.
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 banning of the Seksualiti Merdeka festival and ongoing monitoring by the police 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.
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.