Eight people were reportedly arrested for protesting state crackdowns on the LGBTQ+ community in Malaysia.

The demonstration was held outside the downtown Sogo shopping mall in Kuala Lumpur on 29 July. 

Protesters held placards with messages on them, such as “gay people are not criminals, being gay is not a crime” and “people should not be persecuted because of their sexual orientation”.

“Down down Sharia Court, only God can judge,” some chanted.

Those arrested were aged between 18 and 56 and face charges of illegal gathering, preventing/obstructing the police and holding/displaying offensive placards.

They were ultimately released on a bail equivalent to more than £2,000 ($2,500) each after interrogation and have now gone into hiding out of fear for their safety.

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“Any effort to promote and normalise a perverted lifestyle that contradicts Islamic teachings and human nature, such as LGBT, is completely unacceptable,” the Malaysian Prime Minister’s Office (Religious Affairs) said on 1 August. “Efforts to block the spread of such perverse beliefs must be carried out earnestly and in concert.”

Those arrested all follow the Ahmadi Religion of Peace and Light, which they are believed to have been questioned about extensively.

“They were detained for a total of 48 hours for protesting in support of LGBT+ human rights”

Hadil El-Khouly, the Human Rights Outreach Coordinator of the Ahmadi Religion of Peace and Light UK, said: “They were detained for a total of 48 hours for protesting in support of LGBT+ human rights. They are charged with several serious offences which could see them jailed for many years. During detention, they were interrogated by the police about their religious beliefs.

“This protest was a response by believers from the Ahmadi Religion of Peace and Light to the persecution of the LGBTQ+ community by the Malaysian government, which has escalated recently. We do not support the oppression of LGBTQ+ people. Our doors are open to everyone. We have many members of the LGBTQ+ community. Some of them have been jailed in Turkey, Iran and Egypt.”

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Peter Tatchell, one of the UK’s most prominent human rights campaigners who has supported equality campaigns in Malaysia, described the protest as “a laudable brave example of one persecuted minority supporting another”.

“Their arrest and charges violate three articles of the Malaysian constitution, including Article 10.1 that guarantees freedom of speech, assembly and association and Articles 3.1 and 11.1 that guarantee freedom of religion,” he continued. “It also violates the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Commonwealth Charter – both of which guarantee freedom of expression, the right to protest and freedom of religious belief.”

Tatchell called those demonstrating “very courageous” but shared his fears that “they will pay a heavy price under Malaysia’s draconian anti-protest and sectarian religious laws.”

LGBTQ+ people face growing intolerance from conservatives in Malaysia, where same-sex relationships are punishable by caning under Islamic law and 20 years in prison for sodomy under colonial-era civil laws – though enforcement of these is said to be rare.