A statement by a Malaysian government minister authorizing religious authorities to go after transgender people has sparked outrage among LGBTQ advocates in the deeply conservative country.
In a Facebook post on July 10, Malaysia’s Religious Affairs Minister Zulkifli Mohamad announced that he would give “full license to all… enforcers” of the Federal Territories Islamic Religious Department to take action against transgender people in order to encourage them to “return to the right path.”
“Islam is a religion that wants to educate. We will work towards coordinated efforts from all agencies under the religious affairs wing in the prime minister’s department,” Zulkifli’s Facebook post reads.
Zulkifli’s controversial statement has drawn the ire of Malaysian LGBTQ activists, who see his remarks as an attempt to legitimize state violence against the already-marginalized transgender community.
SEED Malaysia, a community organisation aimed at providing support for marginalized groups, especially the transgender community, said in a Facebook statement that it was “extremely disappointed” by Zulkifli’s comments, which will likely “fuel hatred against the transgender community.”
In a statement published on their website, transgender rights campaign Justice for Sisters expressed deep concern about Zulkifli’s post, calling his remarks “irresponsible” and “degrading.”
According to Justice for Sisters, there have been increased concerns about the “personal security, safety and well-being by transgender persons across the country” since Zulkifli’s remarks.
“We are also deeply disturbed by the government’s perception of transgender people as less than human and as undeserving of respect and dignity,” they added.
Zulkifli’s recent statement, meanwhile, represents a surprising one-eighty from to his previous stance on the subject of transgender rights.
As the former mufti (Islamic jurist) of the Federal Territories, Zulkifli was once considered a supporter of transgender people. In 2017, he held a livestreamed dialogue with members of the transgender commnunity, and the next year, he urged religious authorities to review an Islamic decree that denounced transgenderism, claiming that the identities of transgender individuals are “inert.”
“As long as they do not use their identity for immoral purposes, it is not a shame and they are accepted in Islam,” he said at the time.
Malaysia’s transgender rights abuses have caught the attention of human rights groups in the past. A 2014 investigation by Human Rights Watch found that transgender people are arbitrarily arrested and assaulted by local officials. “Counselling sessions” are also commonly forced onto transgender individuals.
At the grassroots level, hate crimes that target transgender people are also not uncommon, with activists saying perpetrators have been emboldened by officials’ transphobic rhetoric.