Malaysia is a federal constitutional monarchy. It has a parliamentary system of government selected through regular, multiparty elections and is headed by a prime minister. The king is the head of state and serves a largely ceremonial role; he serves a five-year term; the kingship rotates among the sultans of the nine states with hereditary rulers. In May parliamentary elections, the opposition Pakatan Harapan coalition defeated the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, resulting in the first transfer of power between coalitions since independence in 1957. Before and during the campaign, opposition politicians and civil society organizations alleged electoral irregularities and systemic disadvantages for opposition groups due to lack of media access and malapportioned districts favoring the then-ruling coalition.
Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over security forces.
Human rights issues included: reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings by the government or its agents; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; censorship, site blocking, and abuse of criminal libel law; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; corruption; violence against transgender persons and criminalization of adult same-sex sexual activities; child labor; and trafficking in persons.
The government arrested and prosecuted some officials engaged in corruption, malfeasance, and human rights abuses, although civil society groups alleged continued impunity.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. According to the National Human Rights Commission (SUHAKAM), 521 persons died in prison from 2015 through 2016, while more than 100 individuals died in immigration detention centers. The government claimed that deaths in police custody, particularly those caused by police, were rare, but civil society activists disputed this claim. In a 2018 report on custodial deaths, the nogovernmental organization (NGO) Lawyers For Liberty described a “broken system that abets the perpetrators of these crimes.”
Early in the year, the government’s Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission (EAIC) determined that police were guilty of “serious misconduct” in relation to the 2017 death of a man in police custody. The EAIC also found that closed-circuit cameras in the police station were nonfunctional. No further action was taken.
In March a 39-year-old man was found dead in a police detention center. A police official stated the incident was believed to have been caused by negligence and would be investigated. No further action was taken.
Investigation into use of deadly force by a police officer occurs only if the attorney general initiates the investigation or if the attorney general approves an application for an investigation by family members of the deceased. When the attorney general orders an official inquiry, a coroner’s court convenes, and the hearing is open to the public. In such cases, courts generally issued an “open verdict,” meaning that there would be no further action against police.
In January the inspector general of police informed SUHAKAM that police had charged a man with the February 2017 abduction of Christian pastor Raymond Koh. Police noted that the law bars SUHAKAM from investigating any complaint that is the subject of a court proceeding, after which SUHAKAM announced it would “immediately cease” its public inquiry into the matter. Some civil society members believed the arrest was an attempt by police to stop SUHAKAM’s public inquiry into Koh’s disappearance. SUHAKAM announced in May it would reopen its investigation, although little progress was made in the case.
Police also made little progress in investigating the separate disappearances in November 2016 of Christian pastor Joshua Hilmy and his wife Ruth, and of Amri Che Mat, a Muslim activist alleged to be linked to Shiite teachings. SUHAKAM continued public inquiries into the disappearances.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
No law specifically prohibits torture; however, laws that prohibit “committing grievous hurt” encompass torture. More than 60 offenses are subject to caning, sometimes in conjunction with imprisonment, and judges routinely mandated caning as punishment for crimes including kidnapping, rape, robbery, and nonviolent offenses such as narcotics possession, criminal breach of trust, migrant smuggling, immigration offenses, and others.
Civil and criminal law exempt men older than age 50, unless convicted of rape, and all women from caning. Male children between ages 10 and 18 may receive a maximum of 10 strokes of a “light cane” in a public courtroom.
Some states’ sharia provisions, which govern family issues and certain crimes under Islam and apply to all Muslims, also prescribe caning for certain offenses. Women are not exempt from caning under sharia, and national courts have not resolved conflicts between the constitution, the penal code, and sharia.
In August a sharia court in Terengganu State sentenced a woman to six months in jail and six strokes of the cane for prostitution. No charges were filed against the woman’s alleged client.
Civil laws in Kelantan State allow courts to sentence individuals to public caning for certain civil offenses, although there were no reports of such punishment in the state.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Conditions in prisons and detention centers operated by the government’s Immigration Department were harsh. In 2017 SUHAKAM described the conditions at one police detention center as “cruel, inhumane, and degrading.” In January SUHAKAM made a follow-up visit to a police detention center in Johor State that it recommended be closed due to poor conditions. According to SUHAKAM, “conditions of the lock-up remain unchanged and unsatisfactory.”
Physical Conditions: Overcrowding in prisons and immigration detention centers, particularly in facilities near major cities, remained a serious problem. According to the Home Ministry, 20 of the country’s 37 prisons were overcrowded.
In April Thanabalan Subramaniam, age 38, died in police custody in Selangor State; a postmortem could not determine the cause of death but found no signs of abuse. According to Amnesty International, the incident “shows that the authorities, at the very least, are (sic) not proactive in ensuring that [the inmate] received immediate and comprehensive medical treatment in case of an emergency or health hazard. His death also suggests that standard operating procedures put in place for these kind of situations may have been neglected.”
Administration: The law allows for investigations into allegations of mistreatment; however, this did not always function in practice. Law enforcement officers found responsible for deaths in custody do not generally face punishment. In August the lawyer for a man who died in police custody in 2014 said no investigation was conducted into his client’s death, which the EAIC’s investigations revealed was caused by police beatings.
Authorities restricted rights to religious observance for members of Islamic sects the government banned as “deviant.”
Independent Monitoring: Authorities generally did not permit NGOs and media to monitor prison conditions; the law allows judges to visit prisons to examine conditions and ask prisoners and prison officials about conditions. The government provided prison access to the EAIC, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and SUHAKAM, on a case-by-case basis.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) generally had access to registered refugees and asylum seekers, and to unregistered persons of concern who may have claims to asylum or refugee status held in immigration detention centers and prisons. This access, however, was not always timely.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these requirements. Police may use certain preventive detention laws to detain persons suspected of terrorism, organized crime, gang activity, and trafficking in drugs or persons without a warrant or judicial review for two-year terms, renewable indefinitely. Within seven days of the initial detention, however, police must present the case for detention to a public prosecutor. If the prosecutor agrees “sufficient evidence exists to justify” continued detention and further investigation, a fact-finding inquiry officer appointed by the minister of home affairs must report within 59 days to a detention board appointed by the king. The board may renew the detention order or impose an order to restrict, for a maximum of five years, a suspect’s place of residence, travel, access to communications facilities, and use of the internet. Details on the numbers of those detained or under restriction orders were not generally available.
In other cases the law allows investigative detention to prevent a criminal suspect from fleeing or destroying evidence during an investigation.
Immigration law allows authorities to arrest and detain noncitizens for 30 days pending a deportation decision.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The Royal Malaysia Police force, with approximately 102,000 personnel, reports to the home affairs minister. The inspector general of police is responsible for organizing and administering the police force. The Ministry of Home Affairs also oversees immigration and border enforcement and the People’s Volunteer Corps, a paramilitary civilian organization. NGOs remained concerned inadequate training left corps members poorly equipped to perform their duties.
State-level Islamic religious enforcement officers have authority to accompany police on raids or conduct their own raids of private premises and public establishments to enforce sharia, including bans on indecent dress, alcohol consumption, sale of restricted books, or close proximity to unrelated members of the opposite sex. Religious authorities at the state level administer sharia for civil and family law through Islamic courts and have jurisdiction for all Muslims.
Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over security services. The government has some mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and the EAIC and SUHAKAM played a role in investigating alleged abuses committed by the security forces (see section 1.b.). NGOs and media reported that, despite investigation into some incidents, security forces often acted with impunity.
Police officers are subject to trial by criminal and civil courts, but convictions were infrequent. Police representatives reported disciplinary actions against police officers; punishments included suspension, dismissal, and demotion. Police training included human rights awareness in its courses. SUHAKAM also conducted human rights training and workshops for police and prison officials. In October the inspector general of police stated 72 police personnel were fired and 1,484 others were disciplined during the year through September for such offenses as “abuse of power, negligence, failure to report for duty, as well as criminal activities.”
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
The law permits police to arrest and detain individuals for some offenses without a warrant, even outside situations of a crime in progress or other urgent circumstances. To facilitate investigations, police can hold a suspect for 24 hours, which can be extended for a maximum 14 days by court order under general criminal law provisions. NGOs reported a police practice of releasing suspects and then quickly rearresting them in order to continue investigative custody without seeking judicial authorization. In August the lawyer for a person suspected of criminal breach of trust claimed police held his client in custody for more than 40 days without any charges, repeatedly extending the remand order by moving the suspect from one jurisdiction to another. A local human rights NGO described the extended detention as “excessive and [an] abuse of power” by police.
Some NGOs asserted that a police approach of “arrest first, investigate later” was prevalent, particularly in cases involving allegations of terrorism. By law a person must be informed of the grounds for arrest by the arresting officer.
Bail is usually available for persons accused of crimes not punishable by life imprisonment or death. The amount and availability of bail is at the judge’s discretion. Persons granted bail usually must surrender their passports to the court.
Police must inform detainees of the rights to contact family members and consult a lawyer of their choice. Nonetheless, police often denied detainees’ access to legal counsel and questioned suspects without allowing a lawyer to be present. Police justified this practice as necessary to prevent interference in investigations in progress, and the courts generally upheld the practice.
While authorities generally treated attorney-client communications as privileged, in 2017 the Federal Court, the country’s highest court, ruled that Malaysian Anticorruption Commission officials could question lawyers who accompanied their clients to commission hearings (which are nonjudicial) about their interaction with their clients and the content of their discussions.
Police sometimes did not allow detainees prompt access to family members or other visitors.
The law allows the detention of a material witness in a criminal case if that person is likely to flee.
Arbitrary Arrest: Authorities sometimes used their powers to intimidate and punish opponents of the government. Activists and government critics were often subject to late-night arrests, long hours of questioning, and lengthy remand periods, even if they were not ultimately charged with an offense. According to SUHAKAM, police raided the home of lawyer and civil society activist Siti Kasim in June “without the police adequately and reasonably investigating the factual circumstances of the case.”
Pretrial Detention: Crowded and understaffed courts often resulted in lengthy pretrial detention, sometimes lasting several years. The International Center for Prison Studies reported that pretrial detainees made up approximately 26 percent of the prisoner population in mid-2015.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detainees have the right to challenge their detention by filing a habeas corpus application, although they were rarely successful, especially when charged under preventive detention laws.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
Three constitutional articles provide the basis for an independent judiciary; however, other constitutional provisions, legislation restricting judicial review, and executive influence over judicial appointments limited judicial independence and strengthened executive influence over the judiciary. The judiciary frequently deferred to police or executive authority in cases those parties deemed as affecting their interests.
Members of the Malaysian Bar Council, NGO representatives, and other observers expressed serious concern about significant limitations on judicial independence, citing a number of high-profile instances of arbitrary verdicts, selective prosecution, and preferential treatment of some litigants and lawyers.
According to Lawyers for Liberty, the former government was guilty of “concerted attempts to politicize the judiciary,” including forcing judicial officers to attend a political lecture in May 2017 “in flagrant breach of the doctrine of separation of powers and the concept of an independent judiciary.”
In August court of appeal judge Hamid Sultan Abu Backer said he was “severely reprimanded” by an unnamed senior judge for dissenting in a high-profile case and was never again assigned to hear public interest cases related to constitutional matters.
The constitution provides for the rights to a fair and public trial, and the judiciary generally enforced this right. The civil law system is based on British common law and defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly of the charges against them and the right to a timely trial and the right to be present at their trial. Defendants have the right to communicate with an attorney of their choice or to be appointed counsel at public expense if they face charges that carry the death penalty. Defendants also may apply for a public defender in certain other cases.
According to the Malaysian Bar Council, defendants generally had adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense if they had the means to engage private counsel. Otherwise, defendants must rely on legal aid and the amount of time to prepare for trial is at the discretion of the judge. Authorities provide defendants free interpretation in Mandarin, Tamil, and some other commonly used dialects from the moment charged through all appeals. The right to confront witnesses is limited by provisions allowing the identity of prosecution witnesses to be kept secret from the defense before a trial, which inhibits cross-examination of those witnesses. Defendants may present witnesses and evidence on their behalf. Limited pretrial discovery in criminal cases also impeded the defense. Strict rules of evidence apply in court. Defendants cannot be compelled to testify or confess guilt.
Defendants may appeal court decisions to higher courts, but only if the appeal raises a question of law or if material circumstances raise a reasonable doubt regarding conviction or sentencing. The Malaysian Bar Council claimed these restrictions were excessive.
In cases related to terrorism or national security, the law allows police to hold persons even after acquittal against the possibility of appeal by the prosecution.
Many NGOs complained women did not receive fair treatment from sharia courts, especially in cases of divorce and child custody (see section 6).
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
In May opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was released from detention after receiving a full royal pardon for consensual sodomy, a charge he denied and many international observers and human rights organizations viewed as politically motivated. Until his release, authorities generally permitted Anwar’s lawyers and family to visit him; however, in April prison authorities banned attorney Latheefa Koya from seeing Anwar because she violated prison regulations by allegedly releasing a statement to the press in which Anwar purportedly criticized a controversial bill in parliament. Family members said prison officials at times limited Anwar’s access to medical treatment for a shoulder injury.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
Individuals or organizations may sue the government and officials in court for alleged violations of human rights; however, a large case backlog often resulted in delays in civil actions, to the disadvantage of plaintiffs. The courts have increasingly encouraged the use of mediation and arbitration to speed settlements.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
Laws prohibit such actions; nevertheless, authorities sometimes infringed on citizens’ privacy. Under national security laws, police may enter and search the homes of persons suspected of threatening national security without a warrant. The government monitored the internet and threatened to detain anyone sending or posting content the government deemed a threat to public order or security (see section 2.a.).
Islamic authorities may enter private premises without a warrant to apprehend Muslims suspected of engaging in offenses such as gambling, consumption of alcohol, and sexual relations outside marriage.
The government does not recognize marriages between Muslims and non-Muslims and considers children born of such unions illegitimate.
In 2017 the court of appeal ruled that the National Registration Division was not bound by an edict issued by the National Fatwa Committee that declared children to be illegitimate, and therefore unable to take their father’s name, if they were born fewer than six months after the parents’ marriage. The government, however, appealed the case and successfully applied for a stay. The case remained pending.
Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
Domestic and international human rights groups operated subject to varying levels of government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases; however, the government was not always cooperative or responsive to their views.
Outside the political and human rights fields, the government generally allowed NGOs to function independently, met with representatives from some NGOs, and responded to some NGO requests. The government, however, also took action against some NGOs.
Government Human Rights Bodies: Created by an act of parliament, the official human rights commission SUHAKAM is headed by a chairperson and commissioners appointed by the king on the recommendation of the prime minister. Observers generally considered SUHAKAM a credible human rights monitor. It conducted training, undertook investigations, provided reports, and made recommendations to the government. SUHAKAM may not investigate cases in progress in court cases and must cease its inquiries if a casebecomes the subject of judicial action.
The EAIC also performs some oversight functions although its mandate is not limited to human rights.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is a criminal offense, as are most forms of domestic violence. Rape is punishable by a maximum 20 years’ imprisonment and caning. The law does not recognize marital rape as a crime.
Many government hospitals had crisis centers where victims of rape and domestic abuse could file reports without going to a police station. Women’s groups asserted the courts were inconsistent in punishing rapists.
Although the government and NGOs maintained shelters and offered other assistance to battered spouses, activists asserted that support mechanisms for victims of domestic violence remained inadequate. There is a sexual investigations unit at each police headquarters to help victims of sexual crimes and abuse, and police sometimes assign psychologists or counselors to provide emotional support.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law does not prohibit FGM/C and it is a common practice, but data on it was very limited. Ministry of Health guidelines allow the practice but only at government health-care facilities. Women’s rights groups said a 2009 fatwa by the National Council of Islamic Religious Affairs declaring the practice obligatory made FGM/C more prevalent. According to an investigation published by local media in November, there are no standard procedures for the practice and “in some cases box cutters and stationery store blades are used.” The Ministry of Health has never released guidelines for the procedure. Government officials defended the practice during a UN review in February, with a Ministry of Health official stating that the practice was only performed by medical professionals and compared it to immunization programs for female babies. The UN panel urged the country to abolish the practice.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits a person in authority from using his or her position to intimidate a subordinate to have sexual relations. The law classifies some types of workplace sexual harassment as criminal offenses (see section 7.d.). A government voluntary code of conduct provides a detailed definition of sexual harassment intended to raise public awareness of the problem. Observers noted that authorities took claims seriously, but victims were often reluctant to report sexual harassment because of the difficulty of proving the offense, and a lengthy trial process.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization.
Discrimination: The constitution prohibits discrimination against citizens based on gender, and gives men and women equal property rights; however, sharia, which deviates from these principles in some areas, was sometimes applied. For instance, Islamic inheritance law generally favors male offspring and male relatives. Sharia also generally requires a husband’s consent for divorce, but a small and steadily increasing number of women obtained divorces under sharia without their husband’s consent. Non-Muslims are not subject to sharia. Civil law gives non-Muslim mothers and fathers equal parental rights, while sharia favors fathers. Nevertheless, four states–Johor, Selangor, Negri Sembilan, and Pahang–extend equal parental rights to Muslim mothers.
In March a woman reported that Kota Baru Municipal Council officials stopped her from working as a master of ceremonies during a children’s event, claiming that Muslim women cannot speak into microphones because a woman’s voice should not be heard by unrelated men.
The law requires equal pay for male and female workers for work of equal value. Nonetheless, NGOs reported continued discrimination against women in the workplace in terms of promotion and salary (see section 7.d.).
Birth Registration: A child born in the country obtains citizenship if one parent is a citizen or permanent resident at the time of birth and the parents are married. Parents must register a child within 14 days of birth. Parents applying for late registration must provide proof the child was born in the country. According to UNHCR children born to citizen mothers outside the country may only acquire citizenship at the discretion of the federal government through registration at an overseas Malaysian consulate or at the National Registration Department in country. Authorities do not register children born to illegal immigrants or asylum seekers. UNHCR registered children born to refugees (see section 2.d.).
Education: Education is free, compulsory, and universal through primary school (six years), although there was no mechanism to enforce attendance. Public schools are not open to the children of illegal immigrants or refugees, whether registered with UNHCR or not.
Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum age of marriage is age 18 for men and age 16 for women. Muslim women younger than age 16 may marry with the approval of a sharia court. In some cases authorities treated early marriage as a solution to statutory rape.
In June a Malaysian man, age 41, married a Thai girl, age 11, in Thailand and returned to the country to live with her. Despite public outrage over the matter, the deputy prime minister stated the government was powerless to act because the marriage was legal under Islamic law.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law outlaws pornography and states that a child is considered a victim of sexual abuse if he or she has taken part as a participant or an observer in any activity that is sexual in nature for the purposes of a photograph, recording, film, videotape, or performance. Federal police reported detecting approximately 20,000 internet addresses in the country uploading and downloading child pornography. Under the law the minimum age for consensual, noncommercial sex is age 16 for both boys and girls. A conviction for trafficking in persons involving a child for the purposes of sexual exploitation carries a punishment of three to 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine. In 2017 the government established a special court for sexual crimes against children to speed up trials, many of which took years to conclude. Child prostitution existed and a local NGO estimated in 2015 that 5,000 children were involved in sex work in Kuala Lumpur and the surrounding areas. Authorities, however, often treated children engaged in prostitution as offenders or undocumented immigrants rather than as victims.
The government focused on preventing sexual exploitation of children, including commercial sexual exploitation. The law provides for six to 20 years’ imprisonment and caning for persons convicted of incest. A child’s testimony is acceptable only if there is corroborating evidence, which posed special problems for molestation cases in which the child victim was the only witness.
Displaced Children: Street children were most prevalent in Sabah. Estimates of the street children population ranged from a few thousand to 15,000, many of whom were born in the country to illegal immigrant parents. Authorities deported some of these parents, leaving their children without guardians. Lacking citizenship, access to schooling, ord other government-provided support, these children often resorted to menial labor, criminal activities, and prostitution to survive; those living on the streets were vulnerable to forced labor, including forced begging.
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data.html.
The country’s Jewish population was estimated at between 100 and 200 persons. Anti-Semitism was a serious problem across the political spectrum and attracted wide support among segments of the population. A 2015 Anti-Defamation League survey found 61 percent of citizens held anti-Jewish attitudes. Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad defended his right to be anti-Semitic in interviews with the Associated Press in August, stating “Anti-Semitic is a term that is invented to prevent people from criticizing the Jews for doing wrong things,” and the BBC in October repeating his claim from the 1970s that Jews are “hook-nosed” and that the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust was not six million.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The law affords persons with disabilities the right to equal access and use of public facilities, amenities, services, and buildings open or provided to the public. The Ministry of Women, Family, and Community Development is responsible for safeguarding the rights of persons with disabilities.
New government buildings generally had a full range of facilities for persons with disabilities. The government, however, did not mandate accessibility to transportation for persons with disabilities, and authorities retrofitted few older public facilities to provide access to persons with disabilities. Recognizing public transportation was not “disabled friendly,” the government maintained its 50 percent reduction of excise duty on locally made cars and motorcycles adapted for persons with disabilities.
Employment discrimination occurred in relation to persons with disabilities (see section 7.d.).
Students with disabilities attended mainstream schools, but accessibility remained a serious problem. Separate education facilities also existed, but were insufficient to meet the needs of all students with disabilities.
The constitution gives ethnic Malays and other indigenous groups, collectively known as “bumiputra,” a “special position” in the country. Government regulations and policies provide extensive preferential programs to boost the economic position of bumiputra, who constitute a majority of the population. Such programs limited opportunities for nonbumiputra (primarily ethnic Chinese and Indians) in higher education and government employment. Many industries were subject to race-based requirements that mandated bumiputra ownership levels. Government procurement and licensing policies favor bumiputra-owned businesses. The government claimed these policies were necessary to attain ethnic harmony and political stability.
The constitution provides indigenous and nonindigenous people with the same civil and political rights, but the government did not effectively protect these rights. Indigenous people, who numbered approximately 200,000, constituted the poorest group in the country.
Indigenous people in peninsular Malaysia, known as Orang Asli, had very little ability to participate in decisions that affected them. A constitutional provision provides for “the special position of the Malays and natives of any of the States of Sabah and Sarawak,” but does not refer specifically to the Orang Asli. This ambiguity over the community’s status in the constitution led to selective interpretation by different public institutions.
The courts have ruled that the Orang Asli have rights to their customary lands under the constitution, but NGOs said the government failed to recognize these judicial pronouncements. The government can seize this land if it provides compensation. There were confrontations between indigenous communities and logging companies over land, and uncertainty over their land tenure made indigenous people vulnerable to exploitation.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Adult same-sex acts are illegal regardless of age or consent. The law states that sodomy and oral sex acts are “carnal intercourse against the order of nature.” While authorities rarely enforced this provision, it was the basis for the controversial case against then-opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim (see section 1.e.). Religious and cultural taboos against same-sex sexual conduct were widespread (see section 2.a.). In August two women in Terengganu State were sentenced by a sharia court to RM3,300 ($825) in fines and six strokes of the cane each after they were accused of same-sex sexual activity. Authorities caned the women before an audience of approximately 100 persons, marking the first public caning recorded in the state.
Authorities often charged transgender persons with “indecent behavior” and “importuning for immoral purposes” in public. Those convicted of a first offense faced a maximum fine of RM25 ($6.25) and a maximum sentence of 14 days in jail. The sentences for subsequent convictions may be maximum fines of RM100 ($25) and a maximum three months in jail. Local advocates contended that imprisoned transgender women served their sentences in prisons designated for men and that police and inmates often abused them verbally and sexually.
A survey by a local transgender rights group reported more than two-thirds of transgender women experienced some form of physical or emotional abuse. In August a group of boys repeatedly beat a transgender woman in Negeri Sembilan State. In November police arrested a man for allegedly killing his transgender girlfriend in Perak State.
State religious authorities reportedly forced lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBTI) persons to participate in “treatment” or “rehabilitation” programs to “cure” them of their sexuality. In August police raided a club in Kuala Lumpur associated with the LGBTI community, detaining 20 men and ordering them to attend counseling for “illicit activities.” Authorities stated the raid was part of an antidrug operation, but a government minister posted on Facebook that he hoped the operation would “mitigate the LGBT culture from spreading into our society.”
LGBTI persons reported discrimination in employment, housing, and access to some government services because of their sexuality.
In August a federal government minister ordered festival organizers in Penang State to remove portraits of two LGBTI activists from a photography exhibition because the government does “not support the promotion of LGBT culture…” One of the activists whose photograph was removed received multiple death threats in the wake of the controversy. Authorities took no action against those making the threats.
Also in August a government minister stated that authorities would monitor social media and other online content in order “to curb LGBT issues, as well as liberal Islam.”