More than two dozen groups in Malaysia on Friday criticized a local Islamic court’s decision to jail, cane and fine five men for attempting to engage in homosexual acts, saying the punishments were unjust, cruel and violated the defendants’ constitutionally enshrined rights.
The Shah Alam Sharia High Court in Selangor state ordered one of the accused, a 42-year-old married man, to spend seven months in prison, pay a fine of 4,900 ringgit (U.S. $1,185) and receive six lashes from a cane after convicted him of attempting to commit a homosexual act.
Mohd Asri Mohd Tahir, the Sharia judge who handed down the verdict, sentenced the four other defendants between the ages of 27 and 37 to six months in prison, and ordered them to pay fines of 4,800 ringgit ($1,161) and receive six lashes for the same offense, according to Malaysian media.
Mohd Asri sentenced them to serve additional months in prison should they fail to pay their fines. He did not set a date for the canings, which are to be administered in the prison.
The laws under which the men were convicted and sentenced are discriminatory and violate human rights, particularly the right to live with dignity, the 28 organizations – mostly Malaysian NGOs – said in a statement issued Friday.
“These state laws are also in violation of the rights enshrined in the Federal Constitution, namely Article 8 of equality before the law, Article 5 on living with dignity and impartial trial, and Article 9 on freedom of movement,” the groups said.
“Given the adverse and long-term impact on the lives of people, these laws must be repealed immediately.”
Tenaganita, a leading women’s rights organization, and organizations advocating for members of Malaysia’s LGBTQ community, such as Transmen of Malaysia and KL Queer Women’s Discussion Group, were listed among the 28.
Judge Mohd Asri ruled that the offense committed was a serious violation of the Sharia code.
“The facts indicated there was preparation to commit sex against the order of nature and this was not an initial attempt,” he said in his ruling, according to media reports.
The charge sheet described all five defendants as Muslim men who were attempting to perform sex in an apartment outside Kuala Lumpur on Nov. 9, 2018.
According to the groups that criticized the judge’s ruling, a lack of understanding about LGBTQ people and narrow views about sexual orientation lead to injustice and victimization.
“Court decisions like the one yesterday deepen the perception that LGBT people are criminals which then further sanction other ways in which this vulnerable, marginalized community experience harm – not only by the state, but also at the workplace, by their communities as well as their families,” the groups said in their collective statement.
Dual court systems
Malaysia’s population is more than 60 percent Muslim. Engaging or attempting to have same sex intercourse in Malaysia is considered a crime under its federal court system and Islamic court system that function separately.
The Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (Jakim) has estimated the number of LGBT people in the country to be at 310,000, although it later admitted that the figure had not been verified by the Health ministry, according to Singapore’s Straits Times newspaper.
Religious matters in Malaysian states are governed by religious bodies that have the power to enact laws they deem proper through the Sharia court system.
In August 2018, the Sharia court in Terengganu state sentenced two women to caning after they were caught allegedly attempting to have sex with one another in a car in a public square.
At the time, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad rejected the punishment, saying it did not reflect the justice or compassion of Islam.
Anwar Ibrahim, leader of the People’s Justice Party who is expected to succeed Mahathir as prime minister, also then criticized the punishment.
“The state has a duty to protect people and promote the human rights and dignity of all people, including people of diverse sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression,” the 28 organizations said.
“It is time for the state to end all discrimination and violence against LGBTQ persons.”