AUGUST 9 — We, the undersigned, are extremely appalled and disturbed by the arbitrary order issued by Datuk Mujahid Rawa, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department for Religious Affairs to remove portraits of Nisha Ayub and Pang Khee Teik, two human rights defenders (HRD) from the Stripes and Strokes exhibition at the George Town Festival (GTF) 2018 in Penang.
The portraits were removed on 7 August 2018, as the photos were deemed to promote LGBT activities. The exhibition showcases people of diverse backgrounds with the Malaysia flag showing their love and pride for Malaysia.
Mujahid added that the he was informed that the exhibition that “showcases pictures labelled LGBT activists and they were portrayed with the rainbow pride logo”. Mujahid also noted that promotion of LGBT activities was not ‘in line with the new government’s policy’.
The order to remove the portraits was arbitrary and unconstitutional, as it violates multiple rights under the Federal Constitution. This includes Articles 5 and 8 of the Federal Constitution, which guarantee the right to live with dignity and freedom from gender-based discrimination. Article 10 of the Federal Constitution protects the freedom of expression, association and assembly of all persons regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.
In addition, Muhajid must also clearly cite the policies that are used to remove the portraits, instead of vaguely and arbitrarily stating that the photos are not in line with the new government’s policy. The Federal Constitution exists to ensure that there will be no tyranny of the majority over marginalized groups and people.
As Mujahid has stated on multiple occasions, LGBTIQ persons are citizens and their human rights are protected under the Federal Constitution. As such, this protection must extend to all areas, and not just selective areas the Pakatan Harapan administration is comfortable with.
The removal of the portraits of the two activists also effectively restricts human rights defenders from carrying out their activism and work. The Declaration on Human Rights Defenders explicitly outlines the duties of the state in promoting, fulfilling and protecting the rights of human rights defenders and creating a conducive environment for the promotion of human rights.
The CEDAW Committee in its concluding observations to Malaysia in March 2018 also noted its concern over reprisals and restrictions faced by women human rights defenders, in particular those advocating for Muslim women’s rights, the rights of lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex women, as well as for democratic reforms. The Pakatan Harapan administration as the present day government has the obligation to implement the concluding observations and recommendations by the CEDAW Committee.
We also question the purview of the Prime Minister’s Department for Religious Affairs and its Ministers. It appears as if all LGBTIQ related issues have been placed under the Prime Minister’s Department for Religious Affairs. The Department's approach on LGBTIQ issues focuses on "prevention, rehabilitation and treatment as well as the enforcement of laws" have been heavily criticized for not being evidence and rights based, and for its harmful and discriminatory impacts to Malaysian citizens. We are concerned the policies and practices adopted by the Prime Minister’s department on LGBTIQ persons will further regress the human rights of of all persons, in particular LGBTIQ persons.
Post GE-14, there has been an increase of discrimination, threats and violence towards LGBTIQ persons and allies of LGBTIQ persons. As reported by Nisha and Pang on their respective social media platforms, their photos received thousands of hateful and violent threats and messages, including threats of rape, death and torture. We are concerned the removal of the photos completely misses the actual issues that needs to be addressed - the increasing discrimination, threats and violence against LGBTIQ persons. Moreover, this act of censorship and restriction will only embolden those who hold anti-LGBTIQ views and increase discrimination and violence against LGBTIQ persons and allies with impunity.
We call the Pakatan Harapan administration to engage LGBTIQ human rights groups and uphold its obligations in protecting, fulfilling and promoting the rights of all persons, especially persons and groups that are marginalized and stigmatized. We believe LGBTIQ persons are integral to Malaysia’s inclusion of all forms of diversity.
Aliran Kesedaran Negara (Aliran)
All Women's Action Society (AWAM)
Association of Women Lawyers ( AWL )
Centre for Combating Corruption and Cronyism (C4)
Centre for Independent Journalism, Malaysia
Community Action Network (CAN)
In Between Cultura
Johor Yellow Flame (JYF)
Knowledge and Rights with Young people through Safer Spaces (KRYSS)
Justice for Sisters
KL & Sel Chinese Association Women Division
KL & Sel Chinese Association Youth Section
Lingkaran Islam Tradisional (LIT)
Malaysia Design Archive
Malaysian Atheists and Secular Humanists (MASH)
Monitoring Sustainability of Globalisation
National Human Rights Society of Malaysia (HAKAM)
Neighborhood Performance Group
North South Initiative
Parti Sosialis Malaysia
Penang Heritage Trust
Pergerakan Tenaga Akademik Malaysia (GERAK)
Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (EMPOWER)
Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor (PSWS)
PLUHO, People Like Us, Hang Out!
Queer Academics, Students and Supporters Alliance (QUASSA)
Sabah Women's Action Resource Group (SAWO)
Sisters in Islam, SIS
Society for the Promotion of Human Rights (PROHAM)
Transmen of Malaysia
Writer Alliance for Media Independence (WAMI)
Women's Aid Organisation (WAO)
Women Development Organisation of Malaysia
* This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.