Malaysian Religious Authority poised to Increase Persecution of Trans People

Photo / Muhammad Ruqiyaddin via Unsplash
Photo / Muhammad Ruqiyaddin via Unsplash

The Malaysian government intends to make harsher the draconian laws that target the Transgender community. Transgender Malaysian are currently subject to arbitrary arrest, imprisonment, and state-mandated beatings but this is far worse.

This Month Malaysia entered a nationwide lockdown giving the military the power of unwarranted arrest. The lockdown which ends in August also allows for the authorities to confiscate property if it is done ‘in good faith’. Since civil courts won’t convene until August, it leaves citizens most specifically trans people vulnerable. Without legal recourse to Shariah law, once outspoken trans advocates are now in hiding and in fear for their lives

Last July, Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri, Minister of religious affairs shocked the community when he gave “full license” to authorities at the Federal Territories Islamic Religious Department (Jawi) to take action against the transgender community.

“It is not just about arrests,” Al-Bakri said at the time “but also to provide religious education so that the transgender community will “return to the right path”.

This week the government stated that it does not rule out the possibility of amending the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965 or Act 355 to provide for heavier punishments against lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender (LGBT).

Deputy minister in the prime minister’s department (religious affairs) Ahmad Marzuk Shaary said the current sentence under the act, which provides for three-year imprisonment, a fine of RM5,000, and six strokes of the cane, was seen as not giving much effect on the group of people.

This amendment should be seen as necessary to address their “wrongdoings”, he told reporters after a Food Bank Donation Handover by the Federal Territories Islamic Religious Department at Kompleks Purnama near Pengkalan Chepa, here today.

Who are these people Ahmad Marzuk Shaary is so intent on whipping harder and jailing longer? They must be criminals! They must be monsters!

Well, it turns out, they look just like you.

The government maintains that lockdown, loss of personal rights, and increased persecution of trans people are in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The “vilification” of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in Malaysia is “nothing more than a tired and cheap political ploy” to divert the public’s attention from pressing issues currently affecting Malaysian citizens, said Selangor based Lawyers For Liberty (LFL) in a statement.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in Malaysia face violence from both state authorities and civilian actors. In September 2018, a Sharia court sentenced two women to caning for purportedly attempting to engage in homosexual relations. State religious officials and police officers have also physically and sexually assaulted transgender women arrested during raids to enforce Sharia laws that prohibit “a male posing as a female.”

In 2016 the Jawi raided a private dinner terrorizing the transgender attendees, jailing those who objected without a warrant. After a long court battle, the lawyer who stood up for their rights was acquitted of the charge of obstructing the Islamists who terrorized the attendees.

Several Malaysian trans women have reported abusive arrests have diminished since an appeals court struck down as unconstitutional a state “cross-dressing” law in 2014. Malaysia’s highest court overturned the ruling on a technicality, but trans women say advocacy and awareness-raising have restrained officials. Now, trans women primarily fear violence from ordinary people: clients, partners, or strangers, including vigilante groups seeking to rid the streets of trans women. But even when state agents are not the culprits of violence, they bear responsibility for propagating discriminatory beliefs that may lead to hate crimes and for failing to denounce violence when it takes place.”

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Kelli, Busey is managing editor at Planet Transgender