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Everyone should be against Penal Code 377B

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Engaging in consensual oral and anal sex is not something that should be punished. Indeed, the government shouldn’t govern how we have sex, says Chong Yee Shan.

Thanks to Anwar’s case, Malaysians now know about Section 377B of the Penal Code. But what is Section 377B?

Section 377B stipulates the punishment for committing “carnal intercourse against the order of nature”. The exact wording is:

Whoever voluntarily commits carnal intercourse against the order of nature shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to twenty years, and shall also be liable to whipping.

According to 377B, if you and your partner engage in consensual “carnal intercourse which against the order of nature”, you could well be punished like Anwar.

So the next question is, what is “carnal intercourse against the order of nature”?” Let’s say it in a simple way: it is oral and anal sex.

Because of Anwar’s case, people think penal code 377B criminalises LGBT communities or same-sex carnal intercourse – which is a BIG mistake. Look at 377B again, it doesn’t mention any sexual orientation. It means no matter if you are heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, or whatever-sexual, if you and your partner (both consenting adults) engage in oral or anal sex, you could well be charged and punished.

This means Penal Code 377B is not a provision that criminalises the LGBT community. Rather, it criminalises consensual carnal intercourse involving any adult.

Before you think you can escape from this or think your partner won’t rat on you, look at the data first. According to Attorney General Abdul Gani Patail, from 2010 to 2014 in Malaysia there were 171 cases involving charges under Penal Code 377B. Now you start to see how serious this issue is.

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Anwar’s case is not an isolated case or just political persecution. The most important thing is, this Penal Code 377B allows governments to govern how we have sex! Put differently, only vanilla flavour sex is allowed.

But why does our government try to control how we have sex?

The British first applied Penal Code 377 (yes, 377, the same number!) in India in 1850 to replace the Hindu penal system. Before this, consensual anal sex was never an offence. But the British applied a new penal code system, intending to re-construct and re-educate local culture to support colonial rule by implanting morality control.

The British later applied the same penal code system to other colonies such as Malaya, Singapore and Hong Kong. Thus, just like the Internal Security Act and the Sedition Act, Penal Code 377 is a legacy of British colonial rule.

Since 2008, Malaysian has changed a lot: people are not afraid of attending rallies and fighting for their rights. We even have students, professors and other ordinary people standing up to demand the repeal of the ISA – and now the Sedition Act.

What we fight for is our basic human rights. We also should campaign against Penal Code 377B. Engaging in consensual oral and anal sex is not something that should be punished. Indeed, the government shouldn’t govern how we have sex.

Chong-Yee-ShanChong Yee Shan is a diversity member interested in gender studies, Malaysian studies and Malaysian queer literature studies.

Yee Shan attended Aliran’s Young Writers Workshop on Good Governance, Gender and Vulnerable Groups held in Ipoh with the support of the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives.

She says, “Thanks to Aliran. I learned a lot from their methods. I hope we can have more workshops in other languages as well.”

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