No Gay People In Malaysia: The Troubling Comments of The Tourism Minister

Malaysia’s Tourism Minister, Mohammaddin Ketapi, gave comments that support the country’s recently adopted homophobic rhetoric. In a press conference, ahead of the ITB Berlin tourism expo, the German news agency Deutsche Welle reported that Mohammaddin Ketapi said, “I don’t think we have anything like that in our country.” His words were a response to a reporter’s question whether or not Malaysia was safe for gay tourists and Jewish tourists.

The Minister’s statement lead to an uproar in the media, and Ketapi had to clarify on Twitter that he was simply referring to the fact that there are no LGBT focused tourism campaigns in Malaysia. He added that the Malaysian government would, “Never [place] any unnecessary obstacles on our guests based on their sexual orientation, religion, and cultural practices.” However, such individuals as Volker Beck, a German Green party member, tried to prevent Malaysia from attending the ITB Berlin expo. Mr. Beck argued that Malaysia is embracing “homophobia and antisemitism [and] cannot be a partner country.”

For a full understanding of a current precedent, it is important to know that homosexuality is still illegal in Malaysia. The “Sodomy” laws were adopted by the country during its colonial era and have never been abolished since. In fact, a prominent politician, Anwar Ibrahim, was jailed twice for violating those laws. In September of last year, CNN reported public lashing of two gay women in Terengganu, Malaysia. The unnamed women where lashed six times and fined 3,300 ringgit ($800) for supposedly attempting to have sex in a parked car. According to CNN, one of the judges said that it was the first time this type of punishment had been made public. The PAS (Malaysian Islamic Party), the nation’s majority party, was advocating for public punishment.

The Minister’s comments also brought up concerns of antisemitism in the country, which in January tried banning the Israeli swimmers from an international competition held in Malaysia.

With that being said, all of this homophobic rhetoric is not new. In 2013, Russian President Vladimir Putin approved a new law that prohibited “gay propaganda” everywhere: schools, public places and advertisements. At the same time, Ramzan Kadyrov, leader of Chechnya, outright stated that “we [Chechens} don’t have any gays.” In July of 2017, he also gave an interview to HBO  in which he claimed that “If there are any [gay people in Chechnya] take them away to Canada. Praise be to God! Take them far away from us. To purify our blood, if there are any of them here, let them be taken away.” However, seemingly liberal nations like the United State are also setting the stage for legal discrimination of the LGBTQIA+ community. The U.S. recently adopted policies that ban transgender people from serving in its military.

These are just some the cases of historical and ingrained homophobia seeping into new legislation. I think this is a continuous battle for non-discrimination at all levels, but the recent acceptance that nothing can be done to stop these violations of human rights is quite absurd. The United Nations Human Rights Office as well as all other nation states, need to start taking these threats against the LGBTQIA+ community seriously and continue to condemn member states for their actions against basic human rights. If a government thinks that no one cares how it is treating its citizens, it will not change its actions. Thus, all discriminatory rhetoric or legal codes should be countered with International action to protect the communities that are threatened.