On 25 September, the ruling by Malaysia’s Court of Appeal to reinstate the nationwide ban on the book ‘Gay is Okay: A Christian Perspective’ represents an alarming continuation in the suppression of freedom of expression in the country. It highlights the concerning trend of laws such as the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 (PPPA) being used to target and discriminate against LGBTQ persons and on issues of sexual orientation in the name of “morality”.
“By reinstating this ban, the Court is not only silencing alternative views but also sending a chilling message to all Malaysians that open discourse and diversity of thought are discouraged. Such actions have no place in a democratic society that aspires to uphold the principles of free expression and equal rights for all its citizens. The repercussions of this ruling are profound, echoing far beyond the covers of a single publication,” said Nalini Elumalai Senior Malaysia Programme Officer.
This case traces back to a ban imposed in November 2020 by the Minister of Home Affairs under Section 7 of the PPPA. The ban cited concerns about the book’s content being prejudicial to public order, morality, and public interest. In February 2022, the Kuala Lumpur High Court lifted the ban, emphasizing the lack of evidence supporting the ban’s justification and the violation of procedural fairness. ARTICLE 19 welcomed the decision to reaffirm the importance of free expression and a recognition that unfounded censorship has no place in a democratic society.
However, the recent majority ruling by the Court of Appeal marks a stark departure from the principles of non-discrimination and freedom of expression in a worrying shift towards further curtailing open discourse in Malaysia. The book, which presents an alternative Christian perspective on same-sex relations, was a subject of constructive debate, a testament to Malaysia’s diverse society where various viewpoints should be heard and respected. By allowing the ban to stand, the court has allowed the Minister to ban any publications that seem problematic to his discretion.
The abuse of the PPPA to cement continuing discrimination against LGBTQ persons has become increasingly evident in 2023. The law, intended to regulate publications, has been misused as a tool of discrimination. This misuse has far-reaching consequences, as it not only stifles free expression but also fosters a climate of fear against LGBTQ individuals and communities, who already face marginalization.
“The ban on ‘Gay is Okay’ is not just about one book; it reflects a disturbing pattern of eroding democratic values and suppressing voices that dare to challenge the status quo. It’s a distressing reminder that the voices of those advocating for inclusivity and non-discrimination are being stifled,” said Nalini.
We urgently call upon the Malaysian government to repeal the PPPA, in order to prevent further backsliding toward a stifled, undemocratic environment where diversity of thought is silenced.
For more information
Nalini Elumalai, Senior Malaysia Program Officer at ARTICLE 19, email@example.com.