A 'sexuality rights' festival in Malaysia has been forced to cancel events following threats and a government ban.
Seksualiti Merdeka has been held since 2008 in Kuala Lumpur, and represents a coalition of Malaysian NGOs (incl. Malaysian Bar Council, SUARAM, Empower, PT Foundation, United Nations, Amnesty International) and individuals. Apart from the annual festival, they also organise workshops, talks, film screenings, letter writings.
Merdeka is Malaysia's Independence Day, so Seksualiti Merdeka means "Sexuality Independence". Organisers says they use this term "to highlight the fact that even all these years after our independence, not all Malaysians are free to be who they are."
Previously the event has not been widely publicised but this year it was and this led to the ban by Kuala Lumpur City Hall who vowed to scupper any attempts at reviving or promoting the “immoral” event.
Deputy Inspector-General of Police Datuk Seri Khalid Abu Bakar said the police were not against freedom of expression or human rights but had to step in because the organisers did not have a permit to hold the festival in public.
He also said the police had banned the event to safeguard public order after receiving several reports against Seksualiti Merdeka. It has been the target of widespread protests by Muslim organisations who claim the festival 'seeks to sully the Islamic faith'.
“We are not against the people’s right to freedom of speech or human rights. However, if the event creates uneasiness among the vast majority of the population, it may result in disharmony, enmity and threaten public order,” Abu Bakar said.Utusan Malaysia reported the chief of Malaysia’s influential conservative Perkasa organization Ibrahim Ali as saying Seksualiti Merdeka is trying to promote “animal culture” among the people and urged the authorities to take firm action against the organizers of the event, as they posed a threat to Islam. Ali has previously called for a “crusade” against Christians who challenge Islam’s position.
However the group NGO Sisters in Islam, which supports the rights of Muslim women, disagreed with the police ban.
“While we understand that there are Muslims opposed to ideas of respecting gender and sexual diversity, as a Muslim women’s organization, Sisters in Islam disagrees with methods used to stifle these ideas,” said the group in a statement.The event's organisers said:
We are saddened that many Malaysians, including people’s elected representatives, have seen fit to relentlessly persecute, stigmatise and discriminate all those who have found a safe space to dialogue and share information and knowledge on human rights during Seksualiti Merdeka’s events.
We are Malaysian citizens who are being denied our rights to our identity and self-determination.
The false allegations and ill-intended remarks made to incite hate towards us are completely unjustified. They have further marginalized a group of Malaysians that have long suffered severe marginalization in society. As a United Nations Human Rights Council member, the Malaysian government should be ashamed for endorsing and encouraging such intimidation and scare tactics.