Meet the LGBTQ activists fighting to be themselves online in Malaysia

Many online attacks on LGBTQ Malaysians begin with their fellow social media users (although some doubt that political or religious groups can help coordinate them). Personal threats may increase. When a social media post or account is considered an “insult to Islam” and is reported to the police, for example, the poster may face state surveillance, arrest and prosecution. Many of these responses are carried out under the auspices of the controversial Multimedia and Communications Act, a law passed in 1998 that gives the authorities broad powers to control the media and communications in the country.

Numan Afifi, one of Malaysia’s most high-profile activists, packed his suitcase, quit his job and fled the country in July 2017 after the government threatened to prosecute him for organizing an LGBTQ event. He traveled for six months to six different countries. , Often sleeping on the bed, without any income and no idea whether he will come back. He says legal entities offered him pro bono support to seek asylum.

But before the 2018 election, which many hoped would lead to a more progressive government, Afifi headed home instead. “I decided to return, believing in my Malaysian dream,” he said Tweeted about duration In 2019. “I still believe in that dream, for me and for the thousands of gay kids struggling in our schools who were like me.” Doesn’t he feel threatened? “Yes, all the time,” he says. “But you still have to do it because people need our services. I have to do that. “

Coalition Paktan Harappa, believed to be on the more progressive edge of the political spectrum, won Malaysia’s May 2018 elections. And initially, there were indications that the group aimed to fulfill its commitment to human rights reforms, including LGBTQ rights, at the top of its political agenda., A week after the administration, Afifi was appointed press officer by the Minister of Youth and Sports. In July, the newly appointed Minister of Religious Affairs called for an end to discrimination against LGBTQ people in the workplace, which was seen as a significant break from the status quo. But there was a series of high-profile regression over the months. Afifi resigned amid growing public opposition to the appointment of an LGBTQ activist. Police raided a Kuala Lumpur nightclub popular among gay men. Two women were arrested and beaten with sticks for “attempting lesbian sex” in the car.

Since the 2018 election, human rights activists have warned of a worrying erosion of human rights in the country, extending beyond the treatment of LGBTQ communities to the treatment of migrants and widespread questions of censorship and freedom of expression. In June 2021, during the month of Pride, a government task force proposed extending existing Sharia law to allow action against those who already insulted Islam, specifically targeting those who promote the “LGBT lifestyle” online. . “Things have just gotten worse, like really, really bad,” said one activist, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of security concerns. “I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Despite the dangers, many activists remain unclear: If the online platform is the latest battleground for LGBTQ rights, that’s exactly where they will stand.

For example, organizations such as the Trans-Laid SEED Foundation in Kuala Lumpur have brought in experts to train members on cyber security issues, teach them how to prevent devices from being tracked, protect social media accounts from being hacked, and trace emails. Stop.

Malaysian authorities regularly refer to their powers to block access to websites, private blogs and news articles under Section 233 of the Multimedia and Communications Act. The law allows the removal of any content deemed “obscene, vulgar, false, threatening or offensive”, a definition used to censor international LGBTQ websites such as Planet Romeo and Gay Star News. Despite being equally sensitive, small local sites have so far avoided this fate. But many are wary of digital security. One activist says the site he is associated with Face Hacks is several times every six months. “With risk assessment for everything we do, we have to think about back-end security at all times,” she adds.

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