Five men in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur have been sentenced to jail, fines and caning after they allegedly attempted to have gay sex in an apartment complex.
An Islamic court in southwest state of Selangor handed four of the men six-month jail sentences, six cane strokes, and fines of RM 4,800, ($1,164). A sixth man received a seven-month jail sentence, six cane strokes and an RM 4,900 fine ($1,188).
The sentencing has alarmed local activists like Numan Afifi, who attended the court hearing. Afifi says the sentencing will add to a “culture of fear” following the publicly caning of two women punished for “attempting lesbian sex” in 2018.
“It’s a gross injustice and terrible for our country,” Afifi said.
Persecuting gay people is a troubling trend in Malaysia
Malaysia offers zero protections for its gay, lesbian, and bisexual citizens and same-sex sexual encounters there are punishable by up to 20 years in prison, fines and whippings. While these punishments were once considered rare, anti-LGBTQ sentiment has recently increased in the Asian country.
A famous politician, former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, has been repeatedly imprisoned over sodomy charges: in 2000 for allegedly having sex with both his chauffeur and speech writer, in 2008 for allegedly sleeping with a former aide, and in 2015 for similar charges.
Ibrahim pled innocent and called the charges “a complete fabrication” created by his political enemies to unseat and silence him.
In 2013, the Malaysian government sponsored a touring musical, entitled Asmara Songsang (Abnormal Desire), to teach young people about the dangers of being queer. It featured some of the country’s biggest TV stars and showed three promiscuous, drug-using, party-going, queer gang members get struck dead by lighting after refusing their Muslim neighbors’ attempts to bring them back into the heterosexual fold. Afterwards, there was a lecture on why it’s bad to be LGBTQ, and the cast sang a song about national unity while waving Malaysian flags.
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.” Since 2019, multiple trans women in Malaysia have also been beaten, hospitalized, or killed by violent mobs.
In March 2019, Tourism Minister 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 policies, it still hosts an annual Seksualiti Merdeka (Independent Sexuality) festival, though politicians have increasingly tried to prevent it from taking place.
Like one-fourth of the world, Malaysia’s anti-gay laws were originally imported by Britain colonizers. In the modern era, powerful Muslim clerics and politicians in the region have used anti-gay sentiment to whip up conservative outrage and support.