…deputy inspector general of police, Khalid Abu Bakar, told reporters in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday, according a translation by Bernama…”When [Malaysians expressing themselves] crops up and threatens national security,” he said, “we have to take action.”
Such arbitrary halting of legal gatherings by the police is not new in Malaysia. Human Rights Watch has pointed out abuses by Malaysia of its own constitutional freedom of assembly that arise from a 1967 law giving police broad powers to restrict assemblies. Malaysia’s constitution also pays lip service to freedom of religion, but apparently some religions are more free than others. Islam is the majority religion in Malaysia, and Muslim leaders there have been calling for a shutdown of Seksualiti Merdeka while making the usual slurs and comparisons to animals.
Abu Bakar is also reported as saying “the law in the country did not recognise any deviationist activity that could destroy the practice of religious freedom.” Notice that “religious freedom” for some people quite literally consists of the freedom to tyrannize other people. We see this over and over in the United States, where a favorite tactic of the Religious Right is to claim that its freedoms are being violated–the freedoms to badger public-school children to pray, force women to give birth, demand that gay people turn straight or remain celibate, and so on.
As a practical matter, apart from the fact that this festival has been held peacefully three times already, what makes this police decision even more obtuse is that no public parade was planned. Parades can occasionally get unruly, but this festival consisted of “forums, talks, and workshops,” as well as book launches, all of which were to be held at an art gallery. Book launches in art galleries tend not to pose a threat to public order, national security, or anything else except ignorance.
In Malaysia, penetrative anal and oral sex are punishable by whipping and up to 20 years in prison. Seksualiti Merdeka members have faced adversity already. A video campaign modeled on It Gets Better led to death threats to at least one of its brave posters.
According to its website, Seksualiti Merdeka represents a group of NGOs that include Amnesty International and the United Nations. As of this writing, neither of the above groups appears to have made a public statement condemning the Malaysian police action.