The police in Malaysia summoned organizers of the women’s march held on March 12 for allegedly violating national laws. Though authorities were informed about the scheduled event beforehand, police insisted that the inclusion of LGBTQ+ themes during the protest violated local laws.
Malaysia has a predominantly Muslim population. Hardline religious leaders have been strongly opposed to proposals that would decriminalize homosexuality and provide protection to LGBTQ+ individuals.
Around 300 people joined the assembly marking International Women’s Day in the capital Kuala Lumpur on March 12. Participants demanded reforms such as equal pay, a ban on child marriage, and an end to gender discrimination. The organizing committee explained the aims of the protest:
In the last three years, there has been a resounding lack of movement by our government to protect and preserve the rights of women and other marginalised genders. These demands translate to the urgent need for more progress towards achieving gender equality in this country.
Just some of the words of power being spread at #womensmarchmy today @womensmarchmy pic.twitter.com/i6w3etiBnN
— Saksi (@saksimalaysia) March 12, 2023
The event ended peacefully, but the police initiated a probe after it observed banners promoting LGBTQ+ rights. Here’s what the police told the media:
Based on police observation, the participants were found to have gathered and marched while holding placards with words like ‘Imagine If Men Are As Disgusted With Rapes As With Periods, Child Not Pride, Trans Women Are Women, Police Your Behaviour Not My Body’ and others.
A member of the Malaysian Islamic Party also accused supporters of LGBTQ+ rights of hijacking the rally:
Of course, we agree with the women empowerment agenda but there are some who have taken the opportunity to hijack and share their ideas so that the government will give a green light to LGBTs in the country. This is something that is unacceptable at all.
But the women’s march organizing committee asserted that the protest did not violate local laws and that calling for gender equality affirms the new government’s call for unity.
Do we not deserve to express our thoughts, talk about the issues that plague the lives of one too many people, and ask for changes that will create the Malaysia MADANI the unity government wants? The ‘I’ in MADANI stands for ‘Ihsan’, its elaboration asking for us to treat everyone, especially minorities with empathy and kindness.
MADANI is the acronym of the policy framework adopted by the new government. The MANDANI policies emphasize national unity and progress.
Killer placard at #WomensMarchMY pic.twitter.com/JZxFow0mOY
— Puteri N. Balqis (@puteriarchy) March 12, 2023
The police probe coincided with the announcement that Malaysian actress Michelle Yeoh won the “best actress” award at the Oscars in Hollywood. In the comedic sci-fi film, “Everything, Everywhere, All at Once,” Yeoh plays an exhausted, overworked mother juggling her work, chores, husband, and lesbian daughter. Some noted the irony of the police probe while celebrating Yeoh’s victory for starring in a film that features an LGBTQ+ character.
While Michelle Yeoh was awarded this historic #Oscar win, in Malaysia, the police served notices to organisers & speakers of the #WomensMarchMY. They were called in for questioning for marching peacefully for women's rights, for gender justice, for expressing themselves 3/
— Amnesty International Malaysia (@AmnestyMy) March 14, 2023
Nalini Elumalai, senior Malaysia Programme Officer at ARTICLE 19, reminded authorities of its commitment to uphold the constitutionally-guaranteed right to freedom of expression and assembly:
It is deeply disappointing that the new government seems to be resorting to tactics used by its predecessor to restrict peaceful demonstrations. The right to freedom of expression is integral to the enjoyment of the rights to freedom of assembly and association, guaranteed in Article 10 of the Malaysian Federal Constitution.
News and updates about the protest can be accessed through the Twitter hashtag #WomensMarchMY.