Human Rights Watch calls for end to Malaysia’s sodomy law

Global human rights group Human Rights Watch have called on Malaysia to repeal its colonial era law banning gay sex as the government continues to use it to harass Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim

Global human rights group Human Rights Watch have called on the Malaysian Government to cease its legal harassment of Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim and repeal the country’s colonial era sodomy law.

Human Rights Watch made the call after the Malaysian Government decided to appeal the acquittal of Ibrahim in the Malaysian High Court on sodomy charges.

Malaysia’s Court of Appeal in Kuala Lumpur will today hear the government’s appeal of a 9 January, 2012 verdict to acquit Anwar of having consensual sexual relations with his political aide Mohammed Saiful Bukhari Azlan.

This is only the second time that the Malaysian Government has sought to prosecute Ibrahim for allegedly breaking the country’s Section 377B anti-sodomy law – with a first bid failing in 2004.

‘Malaysian authorities are only adding insult to injury by appealing Anwar’s acquittal, compounding the injustice already inflicted on Anwar and his family,’ Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director Phil Robertson said.

‘The best way to ensure this kind of politically motivated persecution doesn’t happen again is for the government to abolish the hateful law on which it’s based.’

High Court Judge Mohamad Zabidin Diah ruled that DNA evidence presented by prosecutors had not been handled properly and could have been tampered with. The judge ruled that in the absence of evidence that could corroborate Azlan’s version of events, a guilty verdict was not possible.

Although the trial ended in acquittal, Human Rights Watch say the case was marred by procedural problems that raised serious fair trial concerns.

Prosecutors refused to share important documents with the defense counsel including the lists of witnesses, surveillance tapes at the apartment where the alleged offense supposedly took place, and access to DNA samples and medical reports.

Government leaders regularly made public comments throughout the trial and the prosecution made procedural breaches, such as leaking information from an on camera fact-finding visit by the court.

If Anwar loses the appeal he faces a prison sentence of up to 20 years, and whipping as he is a Muslim and thus falls under the jurisdiction of Malaysia’s sharia courts.

Anwar would also have to give up his seat in parliament and would be barred from standing for election for five years if he is imprisoned or fined more than US$600.

Human Rights Watch has called on Malaysia adopt a modern gender-free rape law to replace existing legislation regulating forcible sexual relations and to stop using its sodomy law for partisan political reasons.

‘Anwar never should have been charged in the first place because consensual sexual relations between adults should never be criminalized,’ Robertson said.

‘Malaysia should fulfill its obligations as a member of the Human Rights Council and bring its rights practices into compliance with international standards.’

In March of 2012 the United Nations Human Rights Council accepted a report by its High Commissioner on Human Rights which recommended that member states, ‘repeal laws used to criminalize individuals on grounds of homosexuality for engaging in consensual same-sex sexual conduct.’

It also recommended that member states ‘enact comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation that includes discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity,’ and ‘ensure that individuals can exercise their rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly in safety without discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.’

Ibrahim’s case will also be observed by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) who have concerns that the judicial process is being abused to harass Ibrahim.

Former Australian Federal Court judge Elizabeth Evatt will watch the appeal hearing on behalf of the ICJ.

The ruling Barisan Nasional coalition have ruled Malaysia for 56 year and opposition leaders have frequently complained of election rigging and political repression.

Ibrahim denies the charges against him. He is married with five children and is supported in his legal battles by his wife, Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail.

by Andrew Potts
Source – Gay Star News