Doxxing is a crime in Malaysia, except for when it targets the LGTBQ community

·6-min read

A couple of days ago, a tweet about a Malaysian transgender man peforming the Umrah in Saudi Arabia went viral, with the person who wrote it condemning the man’s actions as an insult to Islam.

The tweet thread included a picture of the man, who is known as ‘Ayid’ on social media, as well as a photo of his driver’s license showing his officially registered name and nationality (although the user did blur out the home address).

Based on Coconuts’ investigation of the user’s tweets, it appears the account that posted about Ayid belongs to a former colleague of his. The individual also went so far as to inform Ayid’s current boss about what took place.

The account also tweeted that a police report had been made against Ayid by an ex-girlfriend. The former lover claimed that Ayid had lied to her about his gender.

Taking note of the allegations against Ayid, Thilaga Sulathireh of Justice for Sisters, a local LGBT rights group, told Coconuts that these serious allegations should be investigated but that it must be carried out in a non-prejudicial manner so that Ayid’s right to due process is upheld at all times.

The LGBTQ community in Malaysia, particularly transgender people, is rarely provided protection in doxxing situations, despite the fact that disclosing someone’s personal information without their consent is a violation of Malaysia’s Personal Data Protection Act 2010, according to Thilaga, who identifies as “they/them”.

Photo: Thilaga Sulathireh, co-founder of Justice for Sisters

Doxxing has been one of the biggest security problems faced by internet users over the past decade. The word itself comes from the term “dropping dox” (a slang word for “documents”). To put it simply, doxxing is about exposing someone’s private information online — things like their real name, home address, phone number, etc. — without their permission.

Thilaga said trans persons in Malaysia are particularly susceptible to doxxing as the government generally takes little to no action against those who expose their private information. Due to this lack of enforcement, there is now a culture of impunity where posting a trans person’s identification card, driver’s license, or other personal documents online to out them is acceptable, if not encouraged.

They went on to say that trans persons frequently choose not to report these incidents because they don’t believe the police or other authorities will treat their situation fairly.

“It is also important for us to understand the phrase ‘trans panic defence’. In many cases, people feel that it is justified to commit violence or take harmful disproportionate measures, for example doxxing or non-consensual dissemination of personal details, simply because a trans person did not come out to them.”

“Outing someone is never okay.”

Thilaga said the non-recognition of transgenders, including a lack of legal recognition of gender-diverse people in the country, has increased the vulnerability of these people to being exposed.

“The non-recognition of trans people obviously results in harm, and this is one of them.”

Doxxing, according to Thilaga, has an impact not only on the transgender person but also on their family members’ safety and wellbeing. Family members are frequently harassed and scrutinised by society for having a transgender or LGBT child.

Another similar case is that of Nur Sajat, in February 2020, Nur Sajat, a self-identified intersex woman celebrity who is widely perceived as a trans woman, faced severe backlash from online users and the state after posting photos of herself in a telekung (female prayer garment) while performing the umrah (lesser pilgrimage) in Mecca on her social media platforms.

The backlash against Sajat quickly escalated with her passport and travel documents showing the sex she was assigned at birth being widely disseminated on social media.

This was followed by the release of the details on her birth certificate to mainstream media by the Federal Territory Mufti’s Office, which they obtained from the National Registration Department, and a call to ban Sajat from social media platforms by the then-Minister of Religious Affairs who said her actions “gave rise to discomfort among Muslims”.

In January 2021, Sajat was charged with insulting Islam and a warrant for her arrest was issued when she failed to appear in court. Sajat’s dogged prosecution by the state exemplifies the state’s zealousness in persecuting and criminalising trans and LGBT persons.

Sajat has since sought asylum in Australia and is still active on social media.

Meanwhile, Thilaga said,  transgender persons are still pressured to out themselves and, if they don’t, others assume they are lying, cheating, catfishing, or committing fraud.

“So it is important for us to understand that trans and gender diverse people have the right to their identity and privacy.”

“They do not need to disclose their identity if they don’t want to. Trans and LGBT people mostly only share their identities if they feel comfortable and safe.”

They said being “stealth,” or choosing not to come out for safety or other reasons, is widespread among trans men, adding that many in Malaysia do not feel safe sharing their identities with others because they fear discrimination.

Sisters in Islam, a women’s rights organisation, told Coconuts that, rather than directly denouncing a person as being and acting in a way that is haram and sinful, a better stance towards a transgender person’s chosen identity needs to be taken.

Aleza, a spokesperson for SIS, said that Islam’s legal tradition is much more diverse than what we know now and goes beyond what our religious authorities choose to interpret and decide for us in Malaysia.

“Transgenders are human beings and just like any other Muslim man and woman, are committed to practicing their faith and fulfilling their obligations including completing their fifth pillar of Islam which is, to perform the pilgrimage to Mecca if they can so afford.”

She said it is one thing dealing with religious authorities’ positions and governments’ requirements on this matter.

She said what is equally worrying is how the public is reacting and taking offence to these incidents.

“What is needed is a constructive way forward to address and move this sense of the public’s discomfort on this issue of transgender in our community. But that can only happen if there is a safe space for such discussions and dialogues to begin with. Otherwise, the transgender community will continue to remain marginalised.”

To learn more about the history of transgender people and their experiences living in Malaysia, you can check out this study by Justice for Sisters and Empower Malaysia.