Stop Intimidating Human Rights Defenders Who Question LGBTQ-Related Government Policies
We are deeply concerned by the disproportionate and heavy-handed response by state and non-state actors in relation to a social media post on conversion therapy dated 30 July 2020. We believe the post has been taken out of context by those bent on casting LGBTQ persons and allies in a bad light, and has resulted in police reports being made against the human rights defender who authored the post.
It is misleading for JAKIM and others who have lodged police reports to say that the post likened the state-funded Mukhayyam camps to other methods of conversion therapy. On the contrary, the post provided an overview of conversion therapy as well as the various methods of conversion therapies known and practised around the world by state and non-state actors. Claims that the post had ‘defamed’ JAKIM and state Islamic departments on this point are therefore invalid.
Where Malaysia is concerned, the post clearly noted the state-funded conversion programmes are as follows:
- The Mukhayyam programme or camps
- Seminar and activities
- Islamic spiritual healing as treatment to ‘heal’ LGBT
- 5-year action plan to “curb LGBT behaviour”
- Resources, including e-books and app to hijrah diri, or ‘changing oneself’
All the information in the post was cited and based on published research, Parliament Hansard and media reports available online.
There are many methods of conversion therapy and they are called by different terms around the world. In Malaysia, the language of balik pangkal jalan or ‘return to the right path’, and hijrah are widely used to refer to change or suppression of sexual orientation and gender identity. This includes the state-funded programmes mentioned above.
As mentioned by former Minister of Religious Affairs, Mujahid Yusof Rawa in 2019, the state-funded programmes aim to “reform, fix them, change their attitude and their wayward lifestyle”. Similarly, in the 17th parliament session in 2012, the then Deputy Minister at the Prime Minister’s Department, Dr. Mashitah Ibrahim shared that JAKIM and the state religious department had adopted two approaches to ‘curb LGBT’, which are prevention using the dakwah method and enforcement of laws.
In a visual released by JAKIM in July this year, the department’s Director General was quoted as saying that JAKIM’s “gender confusion education, treatment, and rehabilitation programme” has reached over 1,700 LGBT persons since it began in 2011. He further claims many have hijrah. These pronouncements clearly show JAKIM’s goal is that of conversion, and its programmes targetting LGBTQ persons are in line with “conversion therapy” as understood worldwide, even if the methods may differ.
On the question of participation in the Mukhayyam programme, the post by the human rights defender NEVER claimed that participation is involuntary or otherwise. It also does not speculate, vilify or question the motivations of the participants who attend the programme.
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 seperate things that need to be assessed.
In Malaysia, the existence of laws, policies and rehabilitation programmes targeting LGBTQ persons and behaviour all contribute to social stigma against LGBTQ persons. Living in a homophobic and transphobic environment, many LGBTQ people would understandably want to change or suppress their sexual orientation and gender identity simply to be accepted. Therefore, we must ask, how voluntary are LGBTQ people’s participation in such programmes when they live in a society that criminalises, marginalises and stigmatises them?
JAKIM and others claim that the author of the content is denying the religious freedom of those who wish to participate in such programmes. We would like to note that the author has no such power to deny people their freedoms and did not challenge Islam or anyone’s faith. Meanwhile, by reporting her to the police based on a misinterpretation of her content, they have denied her right to speech. Writing about conversion therapy, state-funded conversion programmes, and experiences of LGBTIQ persons does not amount to restriction of anyone else’s religious belief. She only raised her concerns about the state-funded programme and approaches on rehabilitating LGBTQ persons. A healthy and functioning democracy must allow for the people to question a state-funded programme as much as it allows for the state agencies responsible for those programmes to respond without resorting to intimidation.
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 fear of reprisals often affects marginalised communities such as the LGBTQ communities more, silencing them as a result. This effectively lowers the standards of accountability and good governance.
The government’s conversion programmes and approaches in relation to LGBTQ persons have been widely scrutinised by various bodies. In 2018, the CEDAW Committee in its concluding observation recommended that Malaysia ‘Expedite measures to discontinue all policies and activities, which aim to “correct” or “rehabilitate” LBTI women’.
In line with international human rights standards, CEDAW concluding observations, and other relevant recommendations by the Special Rapporteurs, we recommend the government to use the content as an opportunity to carry out an independent human rights impact assessment of their current programmes and approaches in relation to LGBTQ issues. To do this meaningfully, we also recommend that the government engages and consults with LGBTQ-affirming groups that uphold and defend universal human rights so that all may participate in making Malaysia safe and equal for all. LGBTQ persons do not need to change who they are. But together we can change Malaysia for the better.
- Justice for Sisters
- PELANGI Campaign
- Gay Community Welfare Network
- People Like Us Hang Out (PLUHO)
- Amnesty International Malaysia
- ASEAN SOGIE Caucus (ASC)
- Beyond Borders Malaysia
- Center for Independent Journalism (CIJ)
- Jaringan Kampung Orang Asli Semenanjung Malaysia (JKOASM)
- Persatuan Promosi Hak Asasi Manusia (PROHAM)
- Pergerakan Tenaga Akademik Malaysia (GERAK)
- Sisters in Islam (SIS)
- Sabah Women’s Action Resource Group (SAWO)