Four men between the ages of 26 and 37 have been caned for having a consensual same-sex encounter behind closed doors in Malaysia. Human rights advocates are calling their punishment part of a wider crackdown of the LGBTQ community, a crackdown which has worsened over recent years.
The men’s actions violated a Sharia law forbidding “intercourse against the order of nature.” As such, each man received six hits by a cane, prison sentences up to seven months long and fines. A fifth man has appealed his punishment and a sixth is awaiting sentencing.
The men were reportedly discovered by authorities after the government monitored their “private” messaging. Around 50 officers raided the apartment where the men met to arrest those involved.
The sentencing, which occurred earlier this month, has alarmed local activists like Numan Afifi, who attended the court hearing. Afifi says the sentencing will add to a “culture of fear.”
“It’s a gross injustice and terrible for our country,” Afifi said.
Life is getting worse for LGBTQ Malaysians
Like one-fourth of the world, Malaysia’s anti-gay laws were originally imported by British colonizers. In the modern era, powerful Muslim clerics and politicians have used the laws to whip up outrage and support among conservative citizens. Recently, anti-LGBTQ sentiment in the country has gotten louder and deadlier.
In 2011, Malaysian school authorities sent 66 Muslim teenage boys to a correctional camp to learn “masculine behaviors” after their teachers identified them as “effeminate.” In 2012, the country banned gay characters from all national TV shows and radio programs.
In 2013, the Malaysian government sponsored a touring musical, entitled Asmara Songsang (Abnormal Desire), to teach young people about the dangers of being queer. In 2015, Human Rights Watch criticized Malaysia for fining and imprisoning transgender women.
In June 2017, the country’s health offered its citizens cash prizes for making anti-LGBTQ videos. The following month, a hardline national Muslim group told its 50,000 members to oppose Starbucks for the coffeehouse chain’s pro-LGBTQ workplace policies. That same year, an 18-year-old boy was beaten with helmets, burned, shot in the groin and declared brain dead by medical authorities — his classmates had attacked him for being “effeminate.”
In August 2018, police in Kuala Lumpur raided the gay bar Blue Boy — afterwards the Federal Territory ministry claimed the arrests were meant to “stop the spread of LGBTQ culture in society.” That same month, authorities sentenced two women to public caning for “attempted sexual relations.”
Since 2019, multiple trans women in Malaysia have also been beaten, hospitalized or killed by violent mobs.
In March 2019, Tourism Minister Datuk Mohamaddin Ketapi claimed there are no queer or trans people in Malaysia, a statement which drew condemnation from the country’s LGBTQ community. Despite the country’s anti-LGBTQ actions, it still hosts an annual Seksualiti Merdeka (Independent Sexuality) festival, though politicians have increasingly tried to prevent it from occurring.