KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 5 — Fifteen local advocacy groups today condemned the Malaysian Department of Islamic Development (Jakim) for reporting a local minority rights activist to the police over her tweets about its methods to “heal” the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community.
The groups accused Jakim of intimidating human rights defenders by adopting heavy-handed tactics against those who question its methods.
“Jakim’s knee-jerk reaction to lodge a police report is a disproportionate response to the post.
“It sends a message to Malaysians that we are not allowed to question governmental policies and programmes and aims to limit our freedom of expression and our right to information.
“This will restrict public participation of all citizens in relation to laws, policy, directives, and programmes, due to fear of reprisals,” the 15 non-governmental organisations said in a joint statement.
The groups were listed as: Beyond Borders Malaysia, Jaringan Kampung Orang Asli Semenanjung Malaysia, Persatuan Promosi Hak Asasi Manusia, Pergerakan Tenaga Akademik Malaysia, Sabah Women’s Action Resource Group, Aliran Kesedaran Negara, Justice for Sisters, the Pelangi Campaign, the Gay Community Welfare Network, People Like Us Hang Out, Amnesty International Malaysia, Center for Independent Journalism, Sisters in Islam, Tenaganita, and the Asean Sogie Caucus.
They were responding to Jakim director-general Datuk Paimuzi Yahya, who accused activist Nicole Fong of defaming the department in her tweets about its Mukhayyam program targeting Malaysia’s LGBTQ community.
“Writing about conversion therapy, state-funded conversion programmes, and experiences of LGBTIQ persons does not amount to restriction of anyone else’s religious belief.
“Meanwhile, by reporting her to the police based on a misinterpretation of her content, they have denied her right to speech,” the groups said.
The group asserted that Jakim had taken the contents of Fong’s July 30 tweet out of context.
They said Fong’s tweets were accurate and backed by citations accessible online that included published research and Parliament’s Hansard.
The groups also said Fong’s original tweet never implied participants of such programmes were forced attendees.
“We do, however, need a deeper understanding of what is meant by ‘voluntary participation’.
“While a person’s participation in a programme may be voluntary, it does not mean the programmes themselves are aligned with human rights standards.
“Participation and methodology of the programme are two separate things that need to be assessed,” they said.
The Twitter thread started by Fong, included posters advocating awareness of LGBTQ conversion therapies and programmes and was made in reference to Religious Affairs Minister Datuk Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri statement on July 10 that religious authorities would arrest those in the transgender community and provide them religious education to “return to the correct path”.
Jakim filed a police report against Fong’s controversial tweet last Monday, accusing her of likened their Mukhayyam programme to Western therapy practices that employed electric shocks, surgery, forced marriages and corrective rape.
Jakim described her tweet as manipulative, malicious, and aimed at hindering and restricting the right to freedom of religion of Muslims in the LGBTQ community.
Paimuzi said his department’s programmes emphasised spiritual awareness, fardhu ain or religious obligations, guidance, health awareness, motivation, and career guidance.
The 15 groups urged the government to revisit laws and state-run programmes deemed discriminatory to the LGBTQ community, to ensure they adhere to international human rights standards and cited the 2018 observation and recommendations to Malaysia by the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women committee.
A May 2020 report by independent expert Victor Madrigal-Borloz to the United Nations’ Human Rights Council noted Malaysia one of several nations globally that implemented measures to curb LGBTQ activity at the level of public policy.
The report claimed Malaysia had adopted several programmes and plans to curb behaviours perceived as immoral, including same-sex behaviour, and were found to specifically promote practices of ‘conversion therapy’, including through university programmes.
It also noted that reports had indicated that Malaysia was seen as a country in support of other practices, among them include exorcism.
Madrigal-Borloz’s report noted how there was evidence to show that Malaysia had at one point employed aversion techniques in its conversion therapies that included electric shocks.
The country was also identified as those still seen to be practising faith-based conversion healing techniques, where evidence unearthed include the experience of Malaysian transgenders who described being forced to see leaders of faith-based organisations to be “healed” by prayers.
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