Washington: Human Rights Watch has urged US President Barack Obama to use his historic visit to Malaysia to speak directly to concerns about the country’s deteriorating human rights situation and its opposition to the LGBT community.
Obama scheduled to visit Malaysia April 26-27, 2014, will be the first US president to visit since 1966.
“President Obama needs to take up concerns that basic rights are under threat, and that civil society is squeezed between restrictive laws and abusive government implementation” said John Sifton, Asia advocacy director in a statement.
In a letter sent to Obama last month, Human Rights Watch urged the president to raise human rights issues during his visit to Kuala Lumpur, and to meet with members of human rights groups, civil society organizations, opposition political party figures, and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community.
Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was recently prosecuted and convicted for the second time in his political career under Malaysia’s colonial-era “sodomy” law, it said.
“Sodomy” is a crime in Muslim-majority Malaysia and is punishable by up to 20 years in jail and uman rights groups have criticized the verdict, calling the legal moves against Anwar politically motivated.
“President Obama should speak out on Anwar Ibrahim’s case and meet with him while in Kuala Lumpur,” Sifton said. “Neglecting to do so sends a message to the Malaysian government that misuse of courts for political gain is acceptable to the US.”
LGBT people face particular persecution, with officials banning group events or using offensive and false allegations to undermine their activities.
Pink Dot Penang 2014, a lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender program, scheduled to be held in Penang in March was cancelled due to security and safety reasons.
In 2013, extremist religious groups filed complaints with the police against an LGBT event, deeming it a “deviant sex festival,” forcing the organizers to cancel it.
The police in 2011 banned Seksualiti Merdeka, an LGBT gathering and arts festival. Government religious officials and police also frequently arrest transgender women under state-level Sharia (Islamic law) provisions prohibiting cross-dressing, and there are credible reports of abuses occurring during the raids and while the women are in police custody.
“President Obama should highlight that LGBT people are entitled to the same rights as everyone else,” Sifton said. “Speaking out on anti-gay persecution in Kuala Lumpur could have a long-lasting impact in Malaysia, both in demonstrating international support for this community under threat, and in setting the tone for a more civil public debate in the country.”
The government’s attitude towards the LGBT community is shaped by Islam, the official religion in Malaysia.
Malaysia retains “Section 377A” a British colonial-era law banning “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” and outlaws same-sex relations.