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Malaysia: Reverse Ban on Sexual Diversity Festival

Ensure Right of All Malaysians to Freedom of Association, Expression

(New York) – The Malaysian government should immediately rescind a police-imposed ban on the fourth annual Seksualiti Merdeka festival and adopt measures to protect all Malaysians from discrimination, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to Prime Minister Najib Razak. The “sexual diversity” festival, which has been held since 2008 without incident or interference from government authorities, was scheduled to take place in Kuala Lumpur from November 9 to 13, 2011.

The festival was to consist of talks, workshops, literary events, stage performances, and an art exhibition focusing on “the human rights of people of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities.” The police announced on November 3 that it constituted a “threat to public order.” The authorities failed to provide any evidence to justify that determination, Human Rights Watch said.

“Banning the Seksualiti Merdeka Festival blatantly contradicts Prime Minister Najib’s ‘1Malaysia’ call to promote ‘unity in diversity’ in Malaysia and sadly indicates that a discriminatory, homophobic agenda persists within some quarters of the government,” said Boris Dittrich, advocacy director of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights program at Human Rights Watch. “The prime minister should promptly reverse this wholly unjustified decision and minimize the harm to Malaysia’s reputation.”

Seksualiti Merdeka organizers say that they have been subjected to a renewed barrage of harassment and threats of violence by people using mobile phones/SMS and social media since the police announced the ban. The government should fully investigate these threats and prosecute those responsible to the fullest extent of the law, Human Rights Watch said.

Malaysia’s criminal law encourages discrimination against Malaysia’s LGBT population and has been used to prosecute sexual acts between consenting adults. The government refuses to consider repeal of article 377B of the penal code, which criminalizes consensual “carnal intercourse against the order of nature,” or to replace article 377C on non-consensual sexual acts with a modern, gender-neutral law on rape.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights and that everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in the declaration, without distinction of any kind, including the rights to freedom of expression and association. The Malaysian government’s unjustified banning of the festival violates the principle of non-discrimination and freedom of expression and association, Human Rights Watch said.

Malaysia is member of the United Nations Human Rights Council. When it sought election to the council in 2010, the Malaysian government made a commitment to “uphold the highest standards” of human rights and to “fully cooperate” with the council. Banning the festival contradicts the council’s June 2011 resolution on “Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity,” which expresses “grave concern at acts of violence and discrimination, in all regions of the world, committed against individuals because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.” Unless the ban is reversed, other countries are likely to raise the issue with the council, Human Rights Watch said.

“On Human Rights Day last year, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called upon all countries to decriminalize same-sex sexual relations between consenting adults,” Dittrich said. “Malaysia is long overdue in responding to that and other calls by the international community to end its discriminatory behavior, and the government should repeal its ‘unnatural offenses’ laws immediately.”

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