LETTER | We, the undersigned, are extremely appalled and disturbed by the arbitrary order issued by Mujahid Yusof 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 Aug 7 2018, as the photos were deemed to promote Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transsexual (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 “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 marginalised groups and people.
As Mujahid has stated on multiple occasions, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Intersex and Queer (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 United Nations 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 committee that monitors implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (Cedaw) 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 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 towards LGBTIQ issues, which focuses on "prevention, rehabilitation and treatment as well as the enforcement of laws", has been heavily criticized for not being evidence and rights-based, and for its harmful and discriminatory impacts on 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.
After the 14th general election, 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 need 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 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 marginalised and stigmatised. We believe LGBTIQ persons are integral to Malaysia’s inclusion of all forms of diversity.