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Thursday, 12 January 2012

Legal challenge to banned 'sexuality' festival in Malaysia

Source: Fridae

by Sylvia Tan

The Kuala Lumpur High Court will hear the judicial review application filed by committee members of Malaysia's only sexuality rights festival, which was forcibly cancelled by the police last November, on Feb 21.

Committee members of Malaysia’s only sexuality rights festival Seksualiti Merdeka, which was forcibly cancelled by the police last November, have filed a judicial review application at the Kuala Lumpur High Court.

The event, which comprises workshops, forums, talks, and performances, has been running largely without problems since 2008 with the support of numerous local and international organisations including the Malaysian Bar Council, sexual health group PT Foundation, local human rights NGO SUARAM, Women's Aid Organisation, women’s advocacy group Empower, Amnesty International and the United Nations.

The leave hearing – to decide whether the case was strong enough to merit further proceedings – was scheduled to be heard 10 January by Judge Rohana Yusuf in chambers.

However, the lawyer for the applicants applied to adjourn the case after the respondents’ senior federal counsel Noor Hisham Ismail raised a preliminary objection against the judicial review application. The court then fixed Feb 21 to hear the objection.

The five applicants – festival co-founder Pang Khee Teik, Angela Marianne Kuga Thas, S Thilaga Socky Pillai, Siti Zabedah Kasim and Michelle Nor Ismat (whose name appears as Md Nor Ismat Selamat in court documents) – were represented by lawyers Honey Tan Lay Ean and Chew Siew Ting.

The Seksualiti Merdeka organising committee say in a statement published today that they seek that the ban be lifted and declared null and void, and that the police make available to them copies of all reports made against the event.

“We want to study them; we want to know who made the reports. But basically, it is within our rights to have access to them.” Pang told Fridae in an interview.

The application cited the Deputy Inspector General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar, the Dang Wangi district Deputy Chief Nor Azman Muhammad Yusuf, and the Inspector General of Police Ismail Omar, as respondents.

Speaking with Fridae, Pang says the Attorney-General objected to their application as the ban cannot be reviewed because it is a decision made to facilitate investigation and "not an administrative decision" and that "the rights advocated by SM event are not rights recognised under the Constitution and/or rights which are contrary to law and public morality".

In November, Deputy IGP Datuk Seri Khalid Abu Bakar warned in The Star newspaper that strong action would be taken against those who defied the ban.

He added:
"Police received many protests from non-governmental organisations, including Islamic and non-Islamic organisations, which feared the programme could create disharmony, enmity and disturb public order."
In their statement, the Seksualiti Merdeka organising committee slammed the Deputy IGP’s comments saying:
“These claims are illogical and ridiculous. We hereby declare that the forums, talks and performances we planned to carry out last year were NOT deviationist, NOT disharmonious and NOT threatening to anyone, least of all our national security. The Deputy IGP has neither power nor basis to declare such a ban.”
Calling the ban “absolutely unconstitutional, illegal and undemocratic”, the Seksualiti Merdeka organising committee said they are “truly outraged by this blatant abuse of power against innocent citizens.”
“The ban, the protests against our activities and all attempts to prevent us from expressing ourselves are irrefutable evidence of the discrimination faced by LGBTIQ Malaysians.”
Acknowledging that while some may disagree with the festival, the committee says it in fact “supports their freedom to disagree just as (they) support everyone’s freedom to disagree.”
“But by demanding that we be shut down, they have shown that they don’t understand the meaning of equality and will compromise the very right they are exercising. Their overwhelming existence and the imbalance of power in their favour show why we needed such a space for education, understanding and empowerment.”
According to Angela who was quoted by Malaysiakini, the police did not convey the ban formally, but had 30 police personnel barged in and stopped one of the events on Nov 3.
“We decided not to continue as people present relied on us for their safety. How were we to go on under the atmosphere of intimidation and threat?” she said.
The police action came after vociferous condemnation by conservative and religious groups, including Perkasa, the Allied Coordinating Committee of Islamic NGOs and PAS Youth; and accusing the event organisers of “promoting” homosexuality.

Public debates about gay rights in Malaysia have become increasingly frequent in recent years with Seksualiti Merdeka, incidents of media censorship, Malaysia's first openly gay pastor Ouyang Wen Feng announcing the establishment of the nation's first gay affirmative church, the launch of a series of It Gets Better videos on Youtube featuring gay Malaysians including one Muslim man making local and international headlines.
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