Malaysian police cancel gay arts festival

Mustafa Ali (R), Fadzil Noor (C) and Mahfuz Omar (L). UPALI ATURUGIRI/AFP/Getty Images

Police have ordered gay rights activists in Malaysia to scrap an annual arts festival aimed at fighting discrimination, the Associated Press reports.

The Sexual Independence festival has been held in the capital of Kuala Lumpur since 2008, but has suffered increasing criticism by politicians and religious leaders as it gains awareness.

Organisers of the five-day festival, which is held at a private arts centre, said it would feature performances of “queer anthems sung by fierce local singers and drag divas who know what it means to love out loud and proud”.

But police have insisted the event be cancelled, with critics including the deputy prime minister. Threats of protests were also made against the festival.

In a statement run by Malaysia’s Bernama news agency, deputy police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said authorities plan to “prevent any function relating to the program”.

He said many organizations “feared the program could create disharmony, enmity and disturb public order”.

In Bernama’s reports, Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin described the event as “inappropriate” and a “waste of time”

Pang Khee Teik, a spokesman for the festival, said in a statement about the event: “Asking us to keep quiet is asking us to take your abuse with a smile … it’s time to put a stop to all the hate and misunderstanding and abuse”.

Media censorship rules forbid movies and song lyrics which promote acceptance of gays. Earlier this year, Lady Gaga urged Malaysians to reject the censorship of her hit, Born This Way.

Sodomy is illegal in Malaysia, a country which sparked anger for sending “effeminate” boys to a “gay cure” camp.

The festival’s sponsors and supporters included the Malaysian chapter of Amnesty International, the country’s main grouping of lawyers and other human rights organizations.

Known as Seksualiti Merdeka in Malaysia, it attracts a crowd of around 1000 people a year.