Jan 102012

Malaysian gay rights activists on Tuesday mounted a court challenge to a police ban on an annual gay festival in the conservative Muslim-majority nation.

The third “Seksualiti Merdeka” (Sexuality Freedom) festival featuring gay-themed films, concerts and forums on homosexual issues was banned by police before it could go ahead in November last year after Muslims cried foul.

Festival organizer and activist Pang Khee Teik said the decision to submit a request for a court review of the ban was to end “the ongoing discrimination in the country.”

“It’s important to make a stand. The police are clearly wrong in this instance and as Malaysians we must challenge any unjust act,” he told AFP.

“That’s one of the reasons why Sexuality Merdeka organized this festival because we have realized staying silent has allowed more injustice.

“By keeping quiet, we have also condoned the fear we are living in.”

The request was submitted earlier but a judge began hearing it on Tuesday.

However, government prosecutors quickly lodged an objection to the challenge.

The judge is expected to rule on the objection on Feb. 21 before deciding later on the challenge to the police ban, Pang said.

Homosexuality remains a taboo subject in Muslim-majority Malaysia, where sodomy is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

Amnesty International on Tuesday issued a statement calling on the Malaysian government to repeal the law criminalizing sodomy, calling it “repressive.”

The statement came after a judge acquitted opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim on sodomy charges that he has denounced as a fabrication by the government aimed at ending his political career.

The ban on the gay festival followed Prime Minister Najib Razak’s announcement in September that he would expand civil liberties and break with the country’s authoritarian past.

Malaysia Gay Festival Organizers Challenge Ban | The Jakarta Globe