Statement

Malaysia: Drop Criminal Charges against Human Rights Defender Siti Kasim

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ARTICLE 19

27 Jun 2017

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ARTICLE 19 strongly condemns the criminal charges brought against lawyer and human rights defender Siti Kasim for “obstructing a public servant in discharge of his public functions” under Section 186 of the Penal Codein connection with a transgender event on 3 April 2016. The event was raided by the Federal Territories Islamic Religious Department (JAWI) based on allegations that it violated a 1996 fatwa prohibiting Muslim women from joining beauty pageants in Malaysia.

Siti Kasim has been a staunch defender of human rights and in particular the rights of minority groups such as the LGBT community and indigenous peoples in Malaysia.

At the time of incident, Siti was a guest at the private transgender fundraising dinner at the Renaissance Hotel in Kuala Lumpur when JAWI officials raided the premises, in the presence of media personnel, and prevented about 200 guests from leaving the premises. Siti, who had inquired about the sudden raid and had attempted to mediate the situation, was detained and brought to Dang Wangi police station along with the event's transgender organiser for questioning.

Siti maintains that JAWI did not have a warrant to raid the private event and that they were unaccompanied by police. At the time, JAWI denied that Siti was under arrest after detaining her.

However, on 13 June 2017, more than a year after the event, Siti was notified of the charges under Section 186 of the Penal Code, which carry a penalty of two years imprisonment and/or a RM10,000 fine. In November 2016, Siti had filed a court order to ask for information relating to the raid, for the purpose of suing the government and JAWI officers for unlawful arrest.

Section 10(a) of Malaysia’s Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of expression for all, and the decision to raid the transgender event and subsequently charge Siti represents a violation of LGBT expression. The 2014 joint statement of international and regional mandate holders on freedom of expression, freedom of association and assembly and human rights defenders noted in particular the importance of states’ obligation to protect the right to freedom of expression for LGBT people, stating:

“Protecting and promoting the rights of LGBTI people to free expression, association, and peaceful assembly is crucial to end their discrimination and address the appalling human rights violations inflicted upon them.” The mandate holders insisted that “These are not only basic rights, but they are also essential in allowing individuals to claim other rights, in particular the rights to freedom from discrimination and equality before the law, and they can contribute to fostering public debate in society.”

“Malaysia's LGBT community is highly at risk and continues to struggle to have their basic rights, including the right to freedom of expression and freedom of association, recognised. LGBT individuals who attempt to assert their rights regularly face discrimination and arrest, and some have been subjected to hate crimes or murdered. It is deeply concerning that those speak up for the community are targeted in this way by authorities like JAWI.” said David Diaz Jogiex, ARTICLE 19's Director of Programmes.

ARTICLE 19 calls on the Malaysian government to immediately drop charges against Siti Kasim. The government should also take immediate steps to bring provisions in the Penal Code that can be used to limit the right to freedom of opinion and expression into line with international human rights law. The Malaysian government must strive to recognise and protect the rights of all its citizens, including the right to freedom of expression in line with Section 10(a) of the Federal Constitution.

For more information:

Please contact Miss Nalini Elumalai, Malaysia Program Manager at 01136535927 or email: nalini@article19.org

 

Footnotes

1. Malaysiakini – Siti Kasim charged for obstruction over Jawi transgender raid https://www.malaysiakini.com/news/386551

2. The Malay Mail Online – JAWI raids transgender 'beauty pageant' for breaking fatwa http://www.themalaymailonline.com/malaysia/article/jawi-raids-transgender-beauty-pageant-for-breaking-fatwa