Malaysian rights activist rebukes Deputy PM over LGBTI ‘haram’ comments

Marina Mahatir

Malaysian rights activist Marina Mahathir has criticised the country’s Deputy Prime Minister Wan Azizah Wan Ismail over her comments saying that LGBTI rights should be considered haram (forbidden) in Malaysia.

Marina is a well-known rights campaigner and supporter of LGBTI rights in Malaysia.

She is also the daughter of Malaysia’s prime minister, Mahathir Mohamed.

In response to the comments by Wan Azizah, Marina tweeted, ‘Dear @drwanazizah, did you just call a lot of people including me who have shown the slightest bit of compassion towards marginalized people in our society haram??’

Earlier this week Wan Azizah said that it was haram for Muslims to support the LGBTI community and LGBTI rights in the Muslim-majority country.

‘Most important this, for us, as a Muslim, it is haram… I do not condone it,’ Wan Azizah told local radio station, BFM.

‘Respect people who are different’

Marina also tweeted an article by the Nikkei Asia Review with a quote from Wan Azizah’s husband and prime minister-in-waiting, Anwar Ibrahim.

‘Malaysian society, he said, must live with different beliefs and ways of life and must respect people who are different, including gays, bisexuals and those who identify as transgender,’ Anwar is quoted as saying. Marina wrote at the end of this tweet ‘How now ⁦@drwanazizah⁩?’

Ongoing saga

Disputes over LGBTI rights in Malaysia have courted numerous headlines in recent weeks.

Last month, portraits of two LGBTI activists carrying the Malaysian national flag were removed from a popular arts festival under the orders of the religious affairs minister.

This caused an instant backlash from LGBTI rights campaigners and members of the arts community, some of whom (including Marina) asked for their portraits to also be removed in a show of solidarity.

The removal of the activists’ portraits also set off a war of words between rights campaigners and Islamic leaders.

In August, Wan Azizah also made headlines when discussing LGBTI rights in Malaysia by saying the LGBTI community should be tolerated, as long as LGBTI ‘practices’ were kept behind closed doors. She also discussed the Malaysian statute banning homosexuality, Section 377A, a remnant of the British colonial era law.

Wan Azizah’s husband, Anwar, has been charged and sentenced twice for sodomy under Section 377A while he was an opposition politician. He has always maintained his innocence, and said his imprisonment was due to persecution by political rivals in the former government.

Petition submitted to Japan’s ruling party over MP’s anti-LGBTI comments

5000 protesters demanded Sugito's resignation

A petition with over 25,000 signators has been submitted to Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), calling for an apology from an MP called LGBTI people ‘unproductive’.

Lower-house LDP lawmaker, Mio Sugita, caused a public outcry over comments she made in a magazine article in July.

In the article, Sugita claimed LGBTI people ‘lacked productivity’ as they could not bear children, and should not receive state welfare support.

When later asked to address these comments in a TV interview, Sugita doubled-down on her remarks. She also said that preventing LGBTI suicide was a ‘low-priority’.

Her comments caused an instant backlash from LGBTI groups, along with elderly and disabled rights campaigners.

In total, 26,650 people signed the petition calling on the LDP to take action, AP reported.

Public backlash

Anger over Sugita’s comments has become increasingly vocal since July.

In August, thousands of people took to the streets to protest Sugita’s comments outside of the LDP’s headquarters in Tokyo.

The LDP were initially slow to respond to the criticisms, though later relented under growing public pressure.

The party eventually released a statement saying that Sugita’s comments ‘show her lack of understanding of (LGBT) issues and consideration for the feelings of people involved.’

Sugita is no stranger to controversy when it comes to LGBTI rights in Japan.

In a talk-show interview in 2015 she said she compared same-sex relationships to incest and bestiality.

‘If we recognize different sexual orientations, that will lead to calls to allow marriage between siblings, marriage between parents and children, or even marriage to pets or machines,’ she said.

Not alone in courting controversy

Sugita is not the only Japanese lawmaker to make headlines for holding outspoken views on LGBTI rights.

In July, fellow LDP lawmaker Tom Tanigawa courted controversy after saying same-sex marriage was ‘like a hobby’.

Appearing on an internet TV show, Tanigawa said: ‘It’s not that I don’t approve of diversity and it’s fine if women like women and men like men. But it’s not necessary to legalize same-sex marriage. It’s like a hobby.’

Japan is considered generally progressive on LGBTI rights, particularly when compared to other Asian countries. However, the LGBTI community does not have full equality.

Uganda’s LGBTI people are putting up a fight for their right to a safe place

a woman in a white dress and short hair, wearing a tiara. She is standing side on to the camera holding a colourful open umbrella over her shoulder

So many times when Uganda’s LGBTI community has tried to hold public events, like a Pride parade or a film festival, police have stormed in leaving people scared for their lives.

Gay sex is illegal in Uganda and LGBTI people face extreme persecution and violence.

‘Life for LGBT persons is harsh, it’s very difficult to survive. It’s especially hard to find a job when people know that you’re LGBT,’ 24-year old artist Alicia Nalunkuma told Gay Star News.

Everyday in Uganda, LGBTI people live in fear.

‘It’s very traumatizing and depressing. You feel hopeless because you can’t run or turn to any body because the laws don’t protect you and the police can’t be trusted with your story,’ Nalunkuma said.

a woman with short hear wearing a silver tiara and white dress standing in front of a concrete wall

Ugandan artist, Alicia Houston Nalunkuma. | Photo: Supplied

We refuse to be silent

But despite the fear and persecution, Uganda’s LGBTI people are putting up a fight. Under the name of Rainbow Riots, LGBTI activists in Uganda are using music to protest transphobia, biphobia, and homophobia.

Performing artist, Madam J said LGBTI people don’t have the same opportunities as heterosexual people. But ‘on the other hand many LGBTI people have come out to fight for their rights’.

‘They have refused to be silenced by those against their rights and freedom,’ the 29-year-old said.

‘LGBTI and human rights organizations have continued to do their work without giving up easily.’

One idea the LGBTI advocates came up with is to open a dedicated safe space for the rainbow community. The Rainbow Riots LGBTI Center will become the first permanent place the east African country for the community to meet and seek refuge. It will also provide shelter for homeless LGBTI people.

‘There are few places in Uganda where LGBTI persons can go to be openly LGBTI without the fear of violence and insults,’ Madam J said.

‘Most community activities and workshops take place hotels, public places which in most cases are raided by police. Rainbow Riots’ idea of setting up the center is to increase the quality and safety of the LGBTI community.’

Rainbow Riots center

The LGBTI center is the brainchild of Uganda’s LGBTI advocates and Swedish music producer, Petter Wallenberg. The producer founded Rainbow Riots and has worked closely with LGBTI Ugandans.

‘I wanted to create this centre for my Ugandan LGBT brothers and sisters. Since I founded Rainbow Riots I have seen with my own eyes how cruel life is for Ugandan LGBT people – most significantly the time we were all held hostage in the violent Police raid of Pride Uganda 2016,‘ he said.’

‘This has made me dedicated to do strive for a change. As a gay man who has lived through modern day liberation in Europe I know that change can happen if we all band together and fight for our rights.

‘Now I want everyone around the world to help us fight against the horrific injustice against LGBT people in Uganda. By creating this centre we can take a stand for every human’s right to equality and love.’

A group of people leaning into a camera raising their rights hands into a fist. it is a sunny day and there is barbed wire on a fence behind them

The Rainbow Riots team wants to open a dedicated LGBTI center in Uganda. | Photo: Supplied

It’s so important

The LGBTI center will be critical for the community who struggle to get by everyday.

‘This will be a feel at home space that will be an easy found destination to welcome the community and bringing to them a sense of belonging, ownership, shelter, and safety where a variety of activities will be taking place. The center will provide an environment for vision performing, socializing, meeting, and learning,’ Madam J said.

‘LGBTI people will find a nurturing place for relaxation that offers a renewal of spirit in a peaceful retreat for meditation and personal reflection.’

It will also be a space to promote creative expression. The center will encourage the creation of music, dance and all art forms. It will also have a recording studio which LGBTI people will be able to use for free.

Stand with Uganda

What the Rainbow Riots LGBTI Center really needs is support. The advocates are asking people to donate some funds to make their dream a reality.

‘The creation of the center can only be made possible if the rest of the world stands with the LGBTI community in Uganda,’ Madam J said.

‘The donation from people will not only make a real difference in the lives of LGBTI people in Uganda but also it will increase the safety and security measures if the safe space is created.’

For Nalunkuma, the reason people should donate and support the center is very simple.

‘People should donate because this centre will be a safe space for the vulnerable LGBT persons were they can belong,’ she said.

‘It will also be a creative space which will will cater for many who can’t manage money for activities and don’t have other chances to to express themselves.’

Rainbow Riots and AllOut have come together to setup a crowdfunding campaign to help make sure the vital center gets to open its doors.