Malaysian authorities should immediately end the official harassment of Nicole Fong, an activist who criticised Malaysia’s Mukhayyam rehabilitation programme. The Mukhayyam programme is an official government initiative aimed at influencing LGBTQ+ individuals to abandon “unnatural” lifestyles. Proceedings against Nicole Fong threaten the right to freedom of expression and appear to be an effort to shield from criticism a government programme that violates other human rights, including the rights to privacy, non-discrimination and freedom of religion or belief.
“Having thrown their weight behind an abusive programme, Malaysian authorities are now retaliating against an activist with the temerity to point out the programme’s dreadful impact on the LGBTQ+ community,” said Matthew Bugher, ARTICLE 19’s Head of Asia Programme. “The government seems more intent on protecting its reputation than safeguarding the rights of Malaysians.”
The Mukhayyam programme involves three-day residential camps for LGBTQ+ individuals organised by the Islamic Development Department (JAKIM), a government body. According to the government’s National Strategic Plan for Ending AIDS, a goal of the programme is “giving spiritual awareness through religious approach (tauhid) to face the challenges of life and abandon the practice of unnatural sex.” Human rights organisations have warned about the use of scare tactics and other coercive measures ostensibly aimed at changing sexual behaviour or orientation.
On 3 August, JAKIM’s Director-General stated that JAKIM had lodged a police report concerning Twitter posts made by Nicole Fong on 30 July. The Twitter posts contained a series of infographics that were posted by Nicole Fong and Queer Lapis, an online community representing the LGBTQ+ community. The infographics carry the title “LGBTQ+ Conversion Therapy in Malaysia” and include information about the Mukhayyam programme and quotes from participants.
These infographics directly responded to a 10 July statement by the Minister of Religious Affairs Dr. Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri, in which he said he had given Islamic authorities “full license” to take action against the transgender community. He further stated that he hoped official action would help transgender individuals to “return to the right path”.
The infographics posted by Nicole Fong and Queer Lapis prompted readers to write to their members of parliament requesting for Dr. Zulkifli to withdraw his statement, and for the government to end “conversion programmes” and to uphold the rights of transgender people.
“The government must stop harassing Nicole Fong and other advocates for the LGBTQ+ community in Malaysia. Under Malaysia’s new government, authorities are increasingly intolerant of all forms of criticism,” said Bugher. “Open public discourse is essential to the formation of effective public policies, especially when they touch on sensitive issues such as religion and sexuality.”
For more information please contact:
Matthew Bugher, Head of Asia Programme, [email protected]