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Bangkok Post
Bangkok Post

Women ‘acting like men’ face jail in Malaysian state

Abdul Hadi Awang, president of the Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) waves during an election campaign stop in Marang in Terengganu state last month. PAS won the most seats of any single party in the election. (Malaysia Department of Information via AFP)

A recent move by a Malaysian state to punish Muslim women for out-of-wedlock pregnancies and donning men’s clothing has drawn the ire of human rights activists.

As many as 14 rights groups, including the All Women’s Action Society, said the legislative changes by the northeastern state of Terengganu violate the right to freedom of expression, equality and non-discrimination.

The laws, which were passed by the state assembly, also worsen “existing harmful impact on women, young people, LGBTQ persons, among others”,according to a statement released on Dec 3.

Terengganu, which is governed by Parti Islam Se-Malaysia, also outlawed witchcraft and sorcery under the amendments. The offenses are punishable by a fine of up to 5,000 ringgit ($1,135), a three-year jail term and six lashes, or any combination of the three, the Bernama news agency reported on Dec 1, citing state religious official Satiful Bahari Mamat. 

The move comes amid fears that Islamist-based parties are seeking to wield a greater influence over state affairs, and risks further unnerving investors. Global funds pulled more than $1.2 billion from the domestic bond market in the first 11 months of 2022, partly due to concerns about political instability in the country.

The new laws would better protect “the well-being of Muslims”, Bernama quoted Satiful as saying. He added that the prohibition on women behaving like men was enacted because existing laws only dealt with men acting like women.

“Because in the past, there might not have been much of this issue (women acting like men),” he told the state news agency. “But we see now that pengkid (tomboy or lesbian) cases and the like are becoming more widespread, so the state government intends to curb this issue.”

Parti Islam Se-Malaysia, or PAS as it is known, won the most seats of any single party in last month’s general election. The party has a long-stated objective of transforming Malaysia into an Islamic state, and has pushed the federal parliament to allow it to implement strict Islamic laws in the states it controls.

The legislative changes mirror a recent move by Indonesia to outlaw extramarital sex and raise the penalty for abortions under an extensively revised criminal code. The bill also places limits on how much people can criticise the president and public institutions, and restricts the rights of LGBTQ citizens.

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