Malaysian states with Islamic law eye harsher punishments for Muslim gays

November 11, 2011

(A concert-goer walks past a demonstration protesting U.S. glam rocker Adam Lambert's concert outside its venue in Kuala Lumpur October 14, 2010. Lambert said his Malaysian concert on Thursday would reflect his sexuality despite Islamist anger over his show, which has been accused of promoting "gay culture." REUTERS/Bazuki Muhammad)

Two Malaysian states are set to change their Islamic laws to punish Muslims who engage in homosexuality, raising the prospect of gay Muslims being punished twice and stoking concerns about rising intolerance toward same-gender relationships. Homosexuality is punishable by law in Malaysia by caning and up to 20 years in jail, but the legal amendments planned by Pahang and Malacca religious authorities would give the state governments additional ammunition.

If the proposed changes came into force, a Muslim homosexual could be punished under both federal and state religious charges, meaning that jail terms could run consecutively and result in longer time. Analysts said the proposed amendments hinted at an increasing intolerance toward homosexuality and could erode support for the government among the majority ethnic Malays, who are Muslims by birth.

“The irony of the situation is that the overwhelming majority of gay people in this country are Malays,” said James Chin, a political analyst at Monash University in Malaysia. “When they have these laws to target non-mainstream sexual minorities, they are actually targeting their own people.”

Malacca’s chief minister, Mohd Ali Rustam, said the state would review its Islamic law provisions to allow Muslim gays and lesbians to be tried in court and punished by a jail term or a fine to deter homosexuality.

“So many people like to promote human rights, even up to the point they want to allow lesbian activities and homosexuality,” Ali told Reuters. “In Islam, we cannot do all this. It is against Islamic law,” he said, adding that Muslim homosexuals would also be required to attend counseling.

Ali, who is also Malacca Islamic Religious Department chairman, said the proposed penalties would also apply to those who supported homosexuality even if they did not practice it. “We want to put it in the enactment so that we can enforce it and bring them to our sharia (Islamic law) court. Then we can charge them for promoting or supporting these illegal activities.”

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