August 8, 2018 / 1:06 PM / in 12 days

Malaysia orders pictures of LGBT activists removed from exhibit

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - A Malaysian minister on Wednesday said he had ordered the removal of portraits of two lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) activists from a public photography exhibition, as they promoted LGBT activities.

The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community is routinely persecuted in Muslim-majority Malaysia, where sodomy is a crime and is seen as a threat to conservative values.

Domestic media quoted Mujahid Yusof Rawa, the minister of Islamic affairs, as saying he ordered the removal from an exhibition in the northern state of Penang because promotion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activities was not in line with government policy.

“I have consistently repeated in parliament that we do not support the promotion of LGBT culture in Malaysia,” he told reporters in the lobby of parliament, the Star newspaper said.

Reuters could not reach the minister by telephone after office hours to seek a comment.

Nisha Ayub, one of the activists whose portrait was removed, expressed concern, asking for the government to explain its stance “towards minorities like us”.

“They talk about rights as a citizen of Malaysia but yet they are denying people like me to even express our love to our own country,” Nisha, a transgender activist, said in a post on social media site Facebook.

On social media, the sponsor of the exhibition also expressed shock at the minister’s move.

“False religiosity and political insecurity is not what the New Malaysia is about and can accept,” said Vinod Sekhar, adding that Malaysia’s diversity, acceptance of differences and human values made it a wonderful country.

Activists say intolerance of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community has grown in Malaysia in recent years.

In February, a newspaper article detailing how to identify lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals sparked outrage on social media.

Last year, the health ministry drew criticism from activists and campaigners over a contest on ways to “prevent” homosexuality and transgenderism. In 2015, Malaysia’s highest court upheld a ban on cross-dressing.

Ruling party lawmakers were among those who criticised Wednesday’s decision.

“This incident is indicative of a larger issue, where we continue to deny the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community their rights, opting instead to marginalize and discriminate them,” said Charles Santiago, a member of the ruling coalition.

On Monday, Mujahid provoked anger from women’s rights groups when he said the government was working on a dress code for Muslim women in the private sector to keep them from facing discrimination.

The non-profit Women’s Aid Organization said it rejected efforts to police women’s clothing and freedom of expression.

“Restricting what women wear is, in and of itself, discriminatory, and this policy would end up discriminating against women who do not conform to the code,” it said in a statement.

Muslims make up 60 percent of Malaysia’s population of 32 million, with substantial Buddhist, Christian and Hindu minorities.

Reporting by Emily Chow; Editing by Praveen Menon and Clarence Fernandez

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