The Malaysian government has been urged to immediately rescind a police-imposed ban on the annual Seksualiti Merdeka “sexual diversity” festival, which has been held since 2008 with no previous interference.

The event, consisting of talks, workshops, literary events, stage performances, and an art exhibition focusing on “the human rights of people of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities,” was scheduled to take place in Kuala Lumpur from November 9 to 13.

“Banning the Seksualiti Merdeka Festival blatantly contradicts Prime Minister Najib’s ‘1Malaysia’ call to promote ‘unity in diversity’ in Malaysia and sadly indicates that a discriminatory, homophobic agenda persists within some quarters of the government,” said Boris Dittrich, advocacy director of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights program at Human Rights Watch.

“The prime minister should promptly reverse this wholly unjustified decision and minimise the harm to Malaysia’s reputation.”

Seksualiti Merdeka organisers say that they have been subjected to a barrage of harassment and threats of violence by people using mobile phones/SMS and social media since the police announced the ban.

The government should fully investigate these threats and prosecute those responsible to the fullest extent of the law, Human Rights Watch said, adding that the banning of the festival violates the principle of non-discrimination and freedom of expression and association.

Homosexuality is criminalised in Malaysia with penalties including fines, whippings and imprisonment of up to 20 years.

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