Human Rights Watch: Obama should use Malaysia visit to raise sodomy ban

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Human Rights Watch has said that Barack Obama should use his visit to Malaysia to raise gay rights issues in the country.

Obama landed in the predominantly Muslim country late last night for a two-day stay, as part of his diplomatic tour of Asia.

In March, the country’s main opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim, was sentenced to five years in prison on sodomy charges, after allegations he had sex with a male aide.

John Sifton, Asia advocacy director at HRW said: “Malaysia’s claims of being a tolerant and rights-respecting democracy don’t stand up to scrutiny.

“President Obama needs to take up concerns that basic rights are under threat, and that civil society is squeezed between restrictive laws and abusive government implementation.

“President Obama should highlight that LGBT people are entitled to the same rights as everyone else.

“Speaking out on anti-gay persecution in Kuala Lumpur could have a long-lasting impact in Malaysia, both in demonstrating international support for this community under threat, and in setting the tone for a more civil public debate in the country.”

Obama will not visit Ibrahim as part of the trip, likely over fears of diplomatic tensions.

However, as a conciliatory measure, the South China Morning Post reports that Ibrahim will be visited by US National Security Advisor Susan Rice.

Malaysia retains a colonial-era ban on sodomy in its penal code, and also has strict laws governing “public indecency”, which have been used to arrest trans people and cross-dressers.

According to the penal code, people engaging in same-sex sexual activity can be punished by up to 20 years in prison.