KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 20 — Rights group Lawyers For Liberty (LFL) today chided Putrajaya for intending to prescribe harsher punishments against the lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders (LGBT) community.

In a statement, LFL accused the remark by deputy religious affairs minister Ahmad Marzuk Shaary from Islamist party PAS as a mere “political ploy” to distract the public from focusing on the real issue affecting Malaysians, especially amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

“In a time when the country is in crisis due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it is disappointing that the deputy minister chooses to focus on the vilification of the LGBT community, which is nothing more than a tired and cheap political ploy to detract from the real issues currently affecting Malaysian citizens,” the group said.

LFL said the move amounts to targeted harassment by the government to invade the rights and privacy of LGBT Muslims, explaining that any heavier punishments would place the community under undue hardships.

“This would be in clear violation of Article 8 of the Federal Constitution as LGBT Muslims are entitled to equality before the law and therefore deserve protection from laws that target them solely due to their sexual orientation,” it said.

Article 8 states that “all persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law”.

Yesterday, deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Department was reported saying the government does not rule out the possibility of amending the Shariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965, also known as Act 355, to provide for heavier punishments on LGBT community.

The deputy minister added that the current punishment under the Act, which provides for a three year imprisonment, a fine of RM5,000 and six strokes of the cane, was deemed “ineffective”.

LGBT Muslims already face a number of Shariah offences directed at them under Shariah law, and remain among marginalised groups which are now more affected by the pandemic due to the public stigma.

LFL also urged the government to follow in the footsteps of other Muslim-majority countries such as Egypt and Iran, which have recognised LGBT rights and avoid taking restrictive view of Islamic law.

“Egypt and Iran have issued ‘fatwas’ since the 1980s that allows gender reassignment surgeries, and even Pakistan has enacted the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act in 2018 which is a formal recognition of transgender rights in Pakistan.

“It is obvious therefore that the recognition and protection of the transgender community is not contrary to the precepts of Islam and is in fact mandatory under our Federal Constitution,” it added.