Global Voices

Malaysian activist under police probe after LGBT speech at the United Nations

"The police investigation into Numan’s statement merely serves to highlight the harassment, bullying and discrimination faced by LGBT persons in Malaysia."

Malaysian activist Numan Afifi spoke at the UN Human Rights Universal Periodic Review process about the human rights situation in Malaysia. Source: Facebook

LGBT activist Numan Afifi was summoned by the Malaysian police a month after he delivered a statement at the United Nations Human Rights Council. Numan was part of a delegation which participated in the Universal Periodic Review on Malaysia's human rights situation, focusing on issues related to sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression and sex characteristics.

Numan lauded the government’s anti-bullying program but also noted that there is continuing ‘state-sponsored’ LGBT discrimination in Malaysia. He cited the ‘rehabilitation and conversion practices’ targeting the LGBT community. He also mentioned the sedition probe made by authorities against Women’s Day organizers after LGBT banners were seen in the rally.

Numan vowed to continue fighting for human rights. He wrote on Facebook:

I will not bow down to these acts to harass or intimidate me as a human rights defender in Malaysia. I fight for all human rights and will continue doing so. Stand in solidarity with us as we enlarge civic space in Malaysia and condemn those who attempt to shrink it.

Malaysia’s constitution guarantees the protection of minorities, including those who identify themselves as members of the LGBT community. But in recent years, hardline groups have become more aggressive in demanding the strict enforcement of Islamic teachings in governance. Malaysia has a Muslim-dominated population.

The Malaysian Alliance of Civil Society Organisations in the UPR Process (MACSA) said Numan “has relied on no credible evidence to back the incredulous claim” against the ‘rehabilitation’ program Mukhayyam. MACSA clarified that the Mukhayyam program referenced by Numan seeks to “address the escalation of new HIV/AIDS cases amongst transgender persons and men who have sex with men.” It added that:

Participation in the Mukhayyam programme is also completely voluntary with no elements of coercion involved and is far indeed from conversion therapy practised by other countries which involve an element of forced participation.

MACSA is asking Numan to apologize to LGBT members who are part of the program.

But Numan’s statement about ‘state-sponsored violence’ against the LGBT community was backed by 41 civil society organizations:

These state-sponsored activities are harmful by design as they employ rehabilitation and conversion practices which aim to curb and suppress the actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression of LGBT persons. They also encourage others to intervene in the private and public lives of LGBT persons.

Another set of civil society organizations deplored the police probe against Numan:

The police investigation into Numan’s statement merely serves to highlight the harassment, bullying and discrimination faced by LGBT persons in Malaysia. There is absolutely nothing in Numan’s statement that could warrant any investigation by the authorities.

The Coalition of Malaysian NGOs in The UPR Process or COMANGO described the ‘baseless investigation’ against Numan as ‘a new low in terms of state reprisal against human rights defenders in Malaysia.’

The probe does not mention the complaint against Numan and the charge he is being accused of. Numan was ordered by the police to appear and give a statement on 26 April 2019.

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