Malaysia government minister ordered removal of LGBT portraits from arts festival

Malaysia’s religious affairs minister Mujahid Yusof Rawa has ordered an arts festival to remove portraits of local LGBT activists.

The politician made the intervention in response to the Stripes and Strokes exhibition at the George Town Festival in Penang.

Mujahid Yusof Rawa

The Straits Times reports that the exhibition had included portraits of two LGBT activists, Nisha Ayub and Pang Khee Teik.

However government minister Mujahid Yusof Rawa, who serves in the office of Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad, ordered their removal.

He told the media: “Society cannot accept LGBT being promoted, because that is against norms, culture and religion.

“I was informed that there was an exhibition that showed the LGBT pictures, along with the rainbow pride flag to represent the struggle. That is not in line with what we have consistently repeated in Parliament and the policy of this government.

“When you put the picture with the symbol, and you have written that they are LGBT activists, that is the definition of promotion.

“I was in contact with the state government, and told them the exhibition doesn’t go well with our stand on the LGBT group.”

He added that he asked for the pictures to be removed “based on the policy.”

According to the Malay Mail, Mujahid Yusof Rawa also claimed that censoring the exhibit would protect the two activists pictured.

He said: “We received a lot of comments from those who are hostile towards this group, so in order to calm the situation down I had to make the call. My main concern I don’t want them to get hurt or victimised.

“Many are enraged by their openness. I want to protect them.”

The portraits were later removed from the exhibition.

The event’s sponsor Datuk Vinod Sekhar said: “How could this happen in Penang? I expected more from the Penang government.

“We should be enlightening people, changing their mindsets – not reacting to people who are closed minded.”

Homosexuality is illegal in Malaysia, and the country has taken a hardline shift against the LGBT community over the past few years.

Malaysian schoolchildren wave national flags during the 60th National Day celebrations at Independence Square in Kuala Lumpur on August 31, 2017. (MOHD RASFAN/AFP/Getty)

Last year the country’s then-Deputy Prime Minister vowed to block a planned gay festival in the country’s capital – and ban its organisers from the country.

Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi vowed to block the event as gay people are “not natural”.

He said: “We are monitoring the names of the relevant individuals and will place them on the ‘not to let’ category [banning them from Malaysia].

“As the Home Minister, I have instructed the police and Immigration Department to ensure that the White Party is not held in our country, anywhere at all – indoors or outdoors.

“This is my commitment that I wish to state to all Malaysians.”

A Human Rights Watch report from 2015 said that discrimination against members of the community was “pervasive”.

Transgender people in Malaysia can face arbitrary arrest, physical and sexual assault, imprisonment, denial of healthcare and employment and other abuses.

A challenge to a legal ban on cross-dressing was defeated in 2015 by Malaysia’s highest court.