“Although universal human rights have been defined, we still define human rights in the country in the context of Islam and the syariah (Sharia law,)” said Najib on Aug. 18, according to the Malay Mail. “And even if we cannot defend human rights at an international level, we must defend it in the Islamic context.”
The Malay Mail reported that Najib made the comments during a speech at an Islamic seminar outside the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur.
The Sun Daily, another Malaysian newspaper, reported Najib said “extremist and liberal groups” — specifically the Islamic State and LGBT advocates — “are trying to dominate the majority of the country’s population.”
“These groups are hiding behind the façade of human rights to approve their acts which deviate from Islamic teaching,” said the Malaysian prime minister, according to the Sun Daily. “Such groups (including) the Islamic State and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community are targeting the younger generation to spread their ideologies — and it seems like they have managed to influence them.”
LGBT rights advocates sharply criticized Najib’s comments.
“It’s beyond outrageous that he compared people asserting their rights to love who they wish with the actions of Islamic State to find recruits,” Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division, told the Washington Blade on Friday in an email from Bangkok.
Thilaga Sulathireh, founder of Justice for Sisters, a Malaysian advocacy group, stressed Najib’s comments increase “Islamophobia and (reinforce) the stereotype that Islam or religion is violent and does not celebrate the concept of social justice, equality, diversity, non-discrimination and more.”
“The fact is Islam does promote those concepts and principles,” Sulathireh told the Blade. “I don’t see how the principle of human rights are inconsistent with Islam or religion. They promote similar values.”
Malaysia is among the countries in which consensual same-sex sexual acts remain criminalized.
Secretary of State John Kerry earlier this month during his meeting with Najib in Kuala Lumpur raised the case of former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, a leading opposition figure who is serving a five-year prison sentence after his conviction under the country’s anti-sodomy law. State Department spokesperson Julia Straker told the Blade the U.S. Embassy in the Malaysian capital “meets regularly with civil society groups to discuss LGBTI issues.”
A judge on the Malaysian Court of Appeals last November issued a landmark ruling that declared unconstitutional a law in the state of Negeri Sembilan that bans Muslim men from wearing women’s clothes in public. Officials appealed the decision, and the Malaysia Federal Court on Aug. 13 heard their appeal.
“The United States strongly opposes discrimination against LGBTI persons,” Straker told the Blade. “We continue to highlight our concerns about discrimination against LGBTI persons in Malaysia in the annual Human Rights Report.”
“Human rights are fundamental and enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” she added. “We urge the Malaysian government to provide protections for all of its citizens regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.”
Malaysia is also among the countries that are poised to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a controversial U.S.-led regional trade agreement to which LGBT advocates and other human rights and labor activists object.
The Malaysian government did not respond to the Blade’s request for comment.