The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) has condemned the order issued by Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri, Malaysia’s Minister in charge of religious affairs, to the Federal Territories Islamic Religious Department (Jawi) to take action against the transgender community.
The ICJ called on the minister to rescind the order immediately and take steps to ensure non-discrimination and equal protection of all persons in Malaysia, including LGBTI persons.
On 10 July 2020, Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri announced in a social media post that he had given the Jawi authorities “full licence to carry out its enforcement actions” against transgender persons in Malaysia. He elaborated that his order goes beyond arresting transgender persons, but also giving them “religious education” so they will “return to the right path”.
“This unacceptable transphobic and homophobic attack from a government official highlights the societal prejudices and the lack of legal protections against discrimination faced by transgender persons in Malaysia,” said Ambiga Sreenevasan, a prominent Malaysian lawyer and ICJ commissioner.
“Instead of ensuring that the human rights and dignity of all persons are respected and protected, the minister, through his statement, is going the complete opposite direction by advocating state action against persons belonging to sexual orientation and gender identity minorities,” Ambiga added. She further said, “The minister is legitimising harassment, discrimination and violence against transgender people, and increasing violations of their human rights.”
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Across the country in 13 states and the federal territories, a “male” who “poses” as a woman or wears the clothing of a “woman” may be subjected to criminal liability under state-level religious enactments. Consensual same-sex sexual relations are criminalised as “unnatural offences” in both secular civil law and religious state-level laws, and these “offences” carry heavy penalties in the form of fines, imprisonment and corporal punishment in the form of caning.
The ICJ stressed that these laws served to institutionalise systemic discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, while also creating barriers for LGBT people when seeking justice. They provide state authorities with expansive power to police gender identities, expressions and sexual orientations of people.
The ICJ notes that experiences of severe stigma, marginalisation, and violence committed by families, communities, and state actors lead to immense health risks and mental health disparities of transgender individuals.
The ICJ is also deeply concerned about the minister’s plan to require members of the transgender community to undergo religious conversion therapy. Numerous studies have shown how religious conversion therapy and related practices are causing real harm not only to transgender people, but also to lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals.
The ICJ calls on the government of Malaysia to abide by its obligations under international law and follow through with its commitment to human rights, by ensuring that transgender people and all persons are able to freely enjoy legal protections against discrimination, and that they are able to live free from prejudice, harassment, and violations of their human rights.