A representative for Malaysia’s government has described being queer as “a perverted lifestyle” following the arrest of eight LGBTQ+ protestors in the country.
In a statement released on Tuesday (1 August), and seen by PinkNews, Dato’ Setia Dr. Na’im addressed the “issue” of a pro-LGBTQ+ gathering outside the Sogo Kuala Lumpur shopping centre on Saturday (29 July).
He referred to the eight protestors – who are all followers of the Ahmadi Religion of Peace and Light – as “a group suspected of promoting things against the teachings of Islam”.
The religion follows teachings of imam Mahdi and believes in imam Ahmed al-Hassan as its divine guide.
According to the New Straits Times, Kuala Lumpur police chief Datuk Mohd Shuhaily Mohd Zain said the eight men detained were aged between 18 and 56.
They held placards that read “Only God can judge”, “Being gay is not a crime”, “Down down Syariah court” and “Gay people are not criminals and being gay is not a crime”, he added.
The protest came just a week after British indie band The 1975 had a show cut short in Malaysia after frontman Matty Healy took aim at the Malaysian government’s anti-LGBTQ+ stance.
Healy’s actions were criticised by local LGBTQ+ activists, who described his onstage antics as “giving white saviour complex” and said the incident could put the country’s queer community in even greater danger in the run-up to Malaysia’s state elections.
Sodomy has been outlawed in predominantly Muslim Malaysia since 1871, when the country was under British colonial rule. Punishments range from fines and caning to imprisonment of up to 20 years.
A subsection of the criminal code provides additional punishment for men convicted of “gross indecency with another male person”.
It is also one of a handful of countries worldwide that explicitly criminalises the gender expression of trans people.
The arrests come amid an ongoing LGBTQ+ crackdown in Malaysia
Tuesday’s statement read: “Any effort to promote and normalise a perverted lifestyle that contradicts Islamic teachings and human nature, such as LGBT, is completely unacceptable. Efforts to block the spread of such perverse beliefs must be carried out earnestly and in concert.”
The government representative added that the prime minister’s department of religious affairs advises Muslims to continue following the “teachings of Islam and to stay away from involvement with any teachings and beliefs that conflict with Islamic creed, Sharia [law] and morals”.
Investigations are ongoing following the protestors being released on bail after being held for two days. A court hearing is expected to be set in September.
“Investigations are under Section 186 of the Penal Code, Section 14 of the Minor Offences Act 1955 and Section 9(5) of the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012.
“Further investigations found that one of them was arrested two weeks ago for distributing flyers of the teachings at the Putrajaya mosque,” the police chief said.
The protest comes as Malaysia’s government continues to crackdown on the LGBTQ+ community, with queer people facing arrests and having to endure forced conversion therapy in what officials term an attempt to stem the “spread of LGBTQ+ culture in society”.