KUALA LUMPUR, March 14 — The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community are human beings and Malaysian citizens whose rights must be recognised, the Malaysian Bar said today.
Outgoing Malaysian Bar president George Varughese urged the government to repeal “repressive” laws like the Sedition Act 1948 in the current Parliament meeting, even as the police are investigating a women’s and LGBT march under the colonial-era law that Pakatan Harapan (PH) once promised to abolish.
“Yes, restrictions can be placed, but it cannot be highly draconian restrictions where you’re not allowed to carry out activities simply because you perceive it to be against a particular religion. Others too have rights and those rights must be recognised.
“These groups, the LGBT groups as well, they’re also human. They’re also citizens of this country. So their rights too must be recognised by the government,” George told Malay Mail in a joint interview with Sin Chew Daily here today at the end of his two-year term.
Organisers of the International Women’s Day march in Kuala Lumpur last Saturday revealed today that police are investigating them for sedition and failure to notify authorities 10 days before their assembly under the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012.
The investigation came after conservative Muslim politicians, including Cabinet ministers, roundly criticised LGBTs’ participation in the women’s march, who carried the rainbow flag symbolising gay pride.
George said today it was “extremely disappointing” to see PH use the same laws as the previous Barisan Nasional (BN) administration that are perceived to curtail civil liberties, such as the Sedition Act and Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 that makes it an offence to annoy someone online.
“Just like with the old government, I believe the new government too should not go into this regressive mode in respect of civil liberties,” he said.
The Malaysian Bar president also urged the government to completely repeal the death penalty, instead of merely removing the mandatory nature of the sentence for only 11 offences, excluding drug trafficking.
“It’s disappointing but at the same time, it is a step in the right direction,” said George.
He, however, called for patience with the 10-month-old PH government, praising, for example, its efforts to repeal the Anti-Fake News Act 2018 that was later defeated in the Senate.
“Perhaps some of the implementation by the government is a bit slow, or maybe after having a change in government, perhaps we are also a little impatient,” said George.
“We want to see change almost immediately. That may be a bit idealistic. But I believe change will come.”