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Rights Groups Urge Govt To Stop Spending Tax Payers' Money On LGBT 'Conversion' Programmes

According to Human Rights Watch and Justice for Sisters, government officials have fostered a hostile climate in which LGBT and gender-diverse people face discrimination and punishment because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Cover image via Reuters & Andri Mardiansyah/Viva

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A recent report on anti-LGBT conversion practices, discrimination, and violence in Malaysia has urged the government to stop its state-sponsored conversion camps that claim to "cure" or "rehabilitate" individuals from the LGBTQIA community

The report, which was released by Human Rights Watch and Justice for Sisters, stated that persistent government-sponsored discrimination threatens the rights of LGBT people in the country.

It asserted that government programmes have internalised societal and structural discrimination, causing self-hatred among LGBTQ and gender-diverse persons and hostility among the rest of the population.

In a statement accompanying the report's launch yesterday, 10 August, Justice for Sisters co-founder Thilaga Sulathireh said that government officials have fostered a hostile climate in which LGBT and gender diverse people face discrimination and punishment because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

"Malaysia's current rehabilitation and criminalisation approach to LGBT people is based neither on rights nor evidence," she added.

Co-founder for Justice of Sisters, Thilaga Sulathireh.

Image via Salzburg Global Seminar

For the report, the rights groups interviewed 73 LGBT people in the country between 2018 and 2021.

They also spoke with journalists, human rights practitioners, lawyers, and other informed sources.

The report noted that Malaysia's federal penal code, punishes any form of anal or oral sex with up to 20 years in prison.

According to Sections 377A and 377B of the Penal Code, sexual intercourse that goes against nature is considered a criminal act. This includes activities that are considered indecent, as stated under Section 377D.

In principle, this applies to partners of any sex.

"The best-known instances of the use of Section 377 of the Penal Code were a series of politically motivated prosecutions of Anwar Ibrahim in the 1990s and 2000s as part of an effort by then-prime minister Mahathir Mohamad to eliminate a key political rival," the report stated.

The report also went on to say that the government has also funded retreats, known as mukhayyam, that aim to "rehabilitate" or change LGBT people

These so-called retreats, arranged by the Department of Islamic Development (JAKIM), aim to change sexual orientation of the LGBTQ individuals back to the "right" path.

According to the report, a former participant who attended a mukhayyam programme in December 2017, detailed in a testimony that the facilitators use a variety of methods to "rehabilitate" these individuals, which are carried out in the form of a three-day, two-night camp, eight times a year.

Among the methods used, was through simulating a funeral setting to force participants to think of their own death and the possibility of them going to hell if they did not repent, the former participant said.

"To make us change, they remind us about death. "Oh, when you’re dead, what happens?" There was an activity, a visualization or reflection. There’s a white piece of cloth, kapan, at funerals when Muslim people die. They covered everyone with this cloth. They created a funeral-like atmosphere with incense. They asked us to think about our childhood and growing up, and also to think about death. They also had background sounds that were scary and horrible. It made people start to cry," the participant added.

Meanwhile, the report cited a government-reported number of 1,733 people who have attended these programmes as of June 2021.

"These programmes not only jeopardise the equality, dignity, and rights of those who attend them, but also send a dangerous message to the wider public that LGBT people can and should change their sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression," the report stated.

Attendees being instructed to read Surah Yasin at a conversion camp.

Image via Berita Harian

The report noted that Malaysian authorities have also shut down events designed to promote LGBT rights and have censored content about LGBT people in music and films

The latest example of censorship was seen when the much anticipated Marvel movie, Thor: Love and Thunder, was banned in Malaysia because it "touched on LGBT issues".

Considering the strong animosity towards the LGBT community in Malaysia, Human Rights Watch appealed to the government to stop sponsoring these conversion camps and to also consider the rights and welfare of the LGBT community.

"The Malaysian government should immediately stop sponsoring, funding, and otherwise supporting conversion practices. They should instead be in consultation with LGBT community groups, educate public officials, including police, judges, and government staff, on gender, diversity, and human rights," it said.

'Thor: Love and Thunder' was banned from screening in Malaysia on 28 July.

Image via @GSCinemas (Twitter)

Read on to learn more about conversion therapy in Malaysia:

In June last year, it was reported that the government was considering introducing stiffer punishments against the LGBT community in the country: