KUALA LUMPUR, July 15 — The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) has backed those questioning minister Datuk Seri Zulkifli Mohamad for giving Islamic authorities a “full licence” to arrest and “educate” the transgender community.
In condemning Zulkifli’s remark, ICJ commissioner Ambiga Sreenevasan also called on the minister to rescind the order immediately and to take steps to ensure non-discrimination and equal protection of all persons in Malaysia, including the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community.
“This unacceptable transphobic and homophobic attack from a government official highlights the societal prejudices and the lack of legal protections against discrimination faced by transgender persons in Malaysia.
“Instead of ensuring that the human rights and dignity of all persons are respected and protected, the minister, through his statement, is going the complete opposite direction by advocating state action against persons belonging to sexual orientation and gender identity minorities,” the prominent rights lawyer said in a statement issued by ICJ.
Ambiga went as far as to point out that Zulkifli was legitimising harassment, discrimination and violence against transgender people all the while increasing violations of their human rights.
The ICJ also cited existing legislation across the country where a “male” who “poses” as a woman or wears the clothing of a “woman” may be subjected to criminal liability under state-level religious enactments.
Other forms of legislation including the criminalisation of consensual same-sex sexual relations as “unnatural offences” in both secular civil law and religious state-level laws which carried heavy penalties in the form of fines, imprisonment and corporal punishment in the form of caning.
“The ICJ stressed that these laws served to institutionalize systemic discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, while also creating barriers for LGBT people when seeking justice.
“They provide state authorities with expansive power to police gender identities, expressions and sexual orientations of people,” the statement added.
It also expressed concern over Zulkifli’s statement requiring members of the transgender community to undergo religious conversion therapy.
Conversion therapy, which consists of psychological treatment or spiritual counselling to change a person’s sexual orientation from homosexual or bisexual to heterosexual, is widely seen by the medical and scientific community as potentially harmful and a form of pseudoscience.
The practice is opposed and has been legally challenged, or even banned, in countries such as Australia, Brazil, Chile, China, Ecuador, Israel, Lebanon, Malta, South Africa, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States.
ICJ then called upon the government to abide by its obligations under international law and follow through with its commitment to human rights by ensuring everyone including the transgender community were able to freely enjoy legal protections against any form of prejudice, harassment, and violations of their human rights.
On July 10, Zulkifli had announced on Facebook that he was empowering Jawi to arrest transgender persons and “educate” them so that they “return to the right path”.
Zulkifli’s remark appeared to be in response to risqué photos on social media by cosmetics entrepreneur Nur Sajat, which prompted the ire of some Muslim hardliners.
This led calls for the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government to take action on the transgender businessperson.
Transgender rights group Justice for Sisters (JFS) had also lambasted the minister, saying the remark will have hampered the religious affairs minister’s previous efforts in engaging with trans persons when he was a mufti.
In 2018, when he was then Federal Territories mufti, Zulkifli had called on religious authorities to revisit a fatwa, or Islamic edict declaring transgenderism as un-Islamic, adding that the phenomenon is not inherently wrong.