Malaysia's sodomy law is not applied equally. It has been selectively and systematically enforced to vilify and persecute homosexuals. In Malaysia's Penal Code Section 377, the sentence for conviction of sodomy is flogging, plus up to twenty years in prison. Victims are flogged with a section of bamboo that is split into several strips. When bamboo is split, it has extremely sharp edges, which slice the skin like knives. Flogging is quite bloody and leaves permanent scars.
In addition to Section 337, just to prevent any homosexual from escaping conviction, Section 337A provides for a male to receive up to two years in prison for any act of 'gross indecency with another male person.' This vague wording allows prosecution for any kind of erotic interaction between two males. This law is explicitly applied only to homosexual behavior among males, but lesbians also suffer discrimination.
The US State Department 2006 Country Report on Malaysia concluded that these anti-gay laws 'exist and were enforced. Religious and cultural taboos against homosexuality were widespread’. There is much other evidence that shows the particularly strong and heinous vilification, discrimination and persecution that is happening to homosexuals in Malaysia today.
In 1998, homophobia and Malaysian politics intertwined when deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim made a major break with then premier Dr Mahathir Mahathir due to his economic policies, and pressured him to institute democratic reforms. The prime minister responded by charging that Anwar had sex with two men.
Anwar refused to be intimidated by what he called an untrue smear, and led protests against the dictatorial policies of the government. Mahathir then used the existence of the sodomy law to have his major political rival arrested.
The two men testified at the trial that Anwar had sex with them. But both of them later recanted their stories, and admitted that they had been pressured by government officials and police to make the accusation of sodomy.
Mahathir obviously believed that the charge of homosexuality would be so damning that most people in Malaysia would withdraw their support for Anwar and his call for democratic reforms would be discredited. While many Malaysians supported the deputy prime minister, and joined protests on his behalf, most of them did so only because they believe he did not really commit homosexual acts.
In response to mounting international criticism, the government established a National Human Rights Commission. The commission defines human rights solely as those provided for in the Malaysian constitution, and this does not include rights for homosexuals. There is no challenge to Malaysia's sodomy law, which criminalises all those who engage in same-sex relationships.
Gay people have no one to speak up for them in Malaysia. Without any public discourse on the subject of equal rights for homosexuals, there is little opportunity for changing the attitudes of the public or government authorities.
Therefore, since homosexuality is considered an affront to Islam, any news relating to gay and lesbian rights, especially including calls for ending discrimination against homosexuals, is suppressed.
Police raiding, aided and abetted by a scandal-hungry media, continues. For example, at 7:30pm on Nov 4 last year, police raided a gay party in Penang, and brought along reporters who took pictures of the gay men at this party. The police claimed there was sex going on at this party, though all of the photos that were made as soon as the police burst into the scene showed the men all fully clothed. P
Participants said that it was a purely social gathering, and denied there was any sex going on. Whether there was sexual behavior or not, what is important is that this was a private gathering of consenting adults in a closed private business.
The extensive publicity regarding government condemnation of homosexuality has sent the message to the police and others that persecution of homosexuals is acceptable. All my recent research shows that conditions for homosexuals in Malaysia are quite precarious. Things are getting worse rather than better, and there is no evidence of any turnaround potential for the forseeable future.
The negative attitudes, discrimination and persecution being experienced by Malaysian gay people today is a direct result of religious attitudes and governmental policies. Defining homosexuality as criminal 'sodomy,' imprisonment, censorship of media discussions of the issue, and police oppression, together constitute a pattern of government-sponsored persecution that is impossible to deny.
With this being the case, I think it is time to organise a massive campaign to end unjust laws (Section 377) and discriminatory policies in those nations that persecute sexual minorities.
Please spread the word, and let's begin a campaign to produce change for homosexuals being persecuted in the Muslim world. I remain an optimist, and having seen such dramatic change in China, as well as in other countries, I feel that change is possible in the Islamic world as well.
There are some Muslim nations that are not actively persecuting homosexuals, and they can be the model for change by the homophobic governments. But though I am ultimately optimistic I also know it will be a long struggle.
In the meantime we owe it to the poor people who are being discriminated against to do everything we can to help them escape from the oppressive conditions under which they have to live.
I am proud to have made my contribution in this area, and call upon all other rational people who oppose discrimination to do likewise. Lives of millions depend on this. Please do your part. Repeal Section 377.