People currently convicted of homosexuality in Malaysia could face up to 20 years in prison.
The highest court in Malaysia has granted a 30-year-old Muslim man the right to challenge the country’s Islamic anti-gay laws which prohibit sex “against the order of nature.” The man’s identity has been withheld for his own protection.
In 2018, the man involved in the case was arrested for attempting to engage in gay sex, he has denied the charge. The country has a dual-track legal system for its 13 states, in which Islamic criminal and family laws applicable to Muslims run alongside civil laws.
The man is arguing that the Selangor state, in which he was arrested in, had no power to enforce the Islamic ban on “intercourse against the order of nature” as it was already a crime in the country’s civil law. Malaysia’s constitution says a state cannot exact a law when the same law already exists at a national level.
The case was granted the right to be heard on 14 May, but it was only on Wednesday (27 May) that the decision became public.
Speaking to Reuters, Surendra Ananth said: “This will be the first. (If we win), the state law will be struck down and the criminal charges in the (Islamic) shariah court should be dropped.” Surendra added that arguments should start being heard by the end of the year.
In a statement, LGBTIQ+ Network, a group of 12 Malaysian LGBTQ rights groups, praised the decision to go ahead with the case, saying in a statement: “It is clear this state law is being used by authorities to disproportionately criminalise marginalised and persecuted communities based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”
If the case is successful, it would stop all current cases in sharia courts, and would allow legal challenges to be made in other states.
LGBTQ people are heavily persecuted in Malaysia, including from homophobic politicians. Last year, the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia, known by the acronym SUHAKAM, gave their annual report, but a politician refused to debate parts of the report around LGBTQ rights.
“Since when did Malaysia start recognising LGBT as part of its cultural values? Which religion accepted LGBT as part of their teachings? Have Malaysia [even] built special toilets for the LGBT group?”
And in 2018, in a speech to university students, the Malaysian PM, Dr Mahathir Mohamad decried LGBTQ rights as just “Western values” explaining: “Sometimes Asians accept Western values without questioning. We should be free not to change our values according to their wishes.”
He added: “At this moment, we do not accept LGBT, but if they [the West] want to accept, that is their business. Don’t force it on us.
“The institution of marriage, the institution of the family has now been disregarded in the West. Why should we follow that? Our value system is as good.If [the West] one day decided to walk around naked, do we have to follow?”
His comments got even worse, implying that LGBTQ families weren’t real. “For example in the west now, men marry men, women marry women, and then the family is not made up of father, mother and the child, but is two men adopting one child from somebody,” Mohamad said.
He added: “They call themselves a family.”