(Malaysia, March 9) In a court ruling issued on March 1, Judge Rohana Yusuf of the High Court in Kuala Lumpur upheld the police ban on Seksualiti Merdeka, an annual sexuality rights festival. In November 2011, a previous ruling was issued by Khalid Abu Bakar, Deputy Inspector General of the Royal Malaysia Police, on the grounds that it would cause public disorder.
Concluding her judicial review of the ban, Judge Rohana said, "The police are empowered under Section 27 of the Police Act to stop an event for investigation purposes." She added, "The country will come to a standstill if everyone wants to call for a review of actions taken by the police." The judge found the application for judicial review to be "very academic and speculative in nature" since "the event has ended and there is no guarantee that police will ban the festival again in 2012."
In 2011, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) wrote to Malaysia's Prime Minister, Najib Razak and the Chief of the Royal Malaysia Police, Ismail Omar. Organizers of Seksualiti Merdeka stated that the annual sexuality rights festival had been held peacefully since 2008. The festival has been organized with three aims: First, to empower Malaysians who have been marginalized for their sexuality and gender identities. Second, to champion sexuality rights—self-determination, expression and love—as human rights vital to our humanity. Third, to provide platforms for advocacy of human rights on issues of sexuality and gender.
Grace Poore, IGLHRC's Regional Program Coordinator for Asia and the Pacific Islands, said about the court decision,
"Although Malaysia is not known for its even application of the law and fails in many instances to uphold constitutionally protected freedoms, this ban on Seksualti Merdeka is a disproportionate response to the objections of one small segment of Malaysia's religious groups that are clearly unfamiliar with the contributions Seksualiti Merdeka is making to human rights education. The judge's decision sends a message that this ban on human rights education and artistic expression is acceptable. Although she says the ban may not be imposed again in 2012, by upholding the ban she is endorsing the police action, which clearly violates Malaysian's rights to non-discrimination, freedom of speech and expression, and freedom of peaceful assembly."
Pang Khee Teik, a Seksualiti Merdeka organizer, says,
"In my view, Malaysia has always been on a standstill in terms of human rights. When the police's arbitrary powers cannot be reviewed in court, we are allowing the police to get away with abuse of power."
Another festival organizer, S Thilaga, adds that the Court's decision
"was nothing short of discrimination where the voice of the extremists had drowned the voice of reason."
In 2011, Deputy Inspector General of Police, Khalid, who imposed the ban, told the Malaysian press that Malaysia's laws do not recognize any "deviationist activity that could destroy the practice of religious freedom, among others." Pang countered these accusations. "These claims are illogical and ridiculous," and added that festival opponents are free to disagree "but by demanding that we be shut down, they have shown that they don't understand the meaning of equality and will compromise the very right they are exercising."
Seksualiti Merdeka organizers indicate that they plan to appeal the decision.
- Section 27A(1)(C) of the Police Act empowers police to act against any activity that takes place on private premises but is deemed prejudicial to the interest and security of Malaysia or that would excite a disturbance of the peace. Section 298A of the Penal Code allows police to take action against anyone who causes disharmony, disunity, feeling of enmity, hatred, ill-will or prejudice or for the maintenance of harmony or unity on the grounds of religion.
- In 2011 Muslim groups that complained against Seksualiti Merdeka were Perkasa, the Allied Coordinating Committee of Islamic NGOs and PAS Youth. They said the festival was promoting homosexuality.
- The judicial review applicants Pang Khee Teik, Angela Marianne Kuga Thas, S Thilaga Socky Pillai, Siti Zabedah Kasim and Michelle Nor Ismat were represented by lawyers Honey Tan Lay Ean and Chew Siew Ting. They named deputy inspector-general of police Khalid Abu Bakar, Dang Wangi district deputy police chief Nor Azman Muhammad Yusuf, and Inspector-General of Police Ismail Omar as respondents.
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