(AFP) – Deputy national police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said on Thursday that the decision to halt the three-year-old “Seksualiti Merdeka” (Sexuality Freedom) festival set for November 9-13 came after Muslims called for it to be banned.
“Police will take action … to prevent any function relating to the program,” Khalid was quoted as saying by the national Bernama news agency.
He said Muslim and other groups had protested that “the programme could create disharmony, enmity and disturb public order.”
A senior police official confirmed the decision to AFP.
Festival organizer Pang Khee Pik said the announcement marked a “very tragic day for Malaysia.”
“We are aware that homophobic polices in Malaysia are not isolated, but [the police decision] is a symptom of a systemic breakdown in human rights in the country,” he said.
Pang said 1,500 people attended the event last year and organizers had expected that to double this year.
He said the “lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community of Malaysia are tired of having our rights continually taken away from us. We are tired of being bullied, harassed, persecuted and put in jail for who we are.”
Pang added the festival was “likely to be cancelled and we will have to re-strategise.”
The police decision came after rising pressure from Muslims, with one Islamic group threatening to protest on Friday.
Homosexuality remains a taboo subject in Muslim-majority Malaysia, where sodomy is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
Last week, members of the conservative opposition Islamic party PAS called for a concert later this month by British superstar Elton John to be banned.
They said the openly gay singer promotes “hedonism” and that his sexual orientation would corrupt Muslims.
Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin was quoted earlier Thursday by Bernama as calling the gay-rights festival “immoral.”
“Any activity that does not benefit the majority of Malaysians should not be carried out. It’s a waste of time, although they can say it’s their own right and freedom,” he said.
“That’s why to me, it [the festival] is totally unsuitable and I don’t know its benefits. I don’t understand why they carry out such promotions. Is there any political agenda behind it?”
Past festivals have included a mix of gay-themed film screenings, concerts, discussion forums on homosexual issues, and other events.
The police ban on the festival comes after Prime Minister Najib Razak — who is expected to call fresh polls within months — in September announced plans to expand civil liberties and break with the country’s authoritarian past.