Carolyn Hong – Straits Times Indonesia
Kuala Lumpur. An anti-gay campaign is being ramped up by Malaysia’s pro-Umno media, in what appears to be a bid to sway public opinion against opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim following his acquittal on sodomy charges.
Leading the charge is the Umno-owned Utusan Malaysia, which despite a lawsuit filed by Anwar has published a series of articles criticizing what it described as a trend to promote the gay culture in Malaysia.
The move appears to be aimed at discrediting Anwar as a general election looms, by suggesting that he is guilty of sodomizing his male aide even though the court had acquitted him recently.
Observers say the repetition of claims that Anwar has the support of international gay rights proponents, or that he himself supported gay rights, is aimed at lending legitimacy to the impression being created that the opposition leader is a homosexual.
“It’s a reminder that the acquittal does not equate to being not guilty,” said political analyst P. Sivamurugan at the University Sains Malaysia. The anti-gay campaign, he noted, had been ramped up amid growing speculation that the general election was imminent.
As homosexuality is seen as one of the gravest sins in Islam, the campaign could diminish Anwar’s standing as a devout Muslim leader and drive a wedge between him and his political ally, Parti Islam SeMalaysia.
It appears to be targeted at conservative Malay-Muslims in the rural areas, who represent one of the last remaining bastions of hardcore support for the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition.
Pro-Umno media were quick to jump on Anwar after he gave an interview with the BBC, in which he commented on anti-gay laws in Malaysia saying: “We should not be seen to be punitive and consider the archaic law as relevant.”
He stressed, however, that Malaysians remained committed to the sanctity of marriage between men and women, and that the opposition Pakatan Rakyat alliance did not promote homosexuality in the public domain.
Utusan Malaysia allegedly called Mr Anwar a gay rights proponent after the interview, prompting him to sue the Umno-backed paper for RM150 million (S$62 million) last week.
Yesterday, however, an Utusan Malaysia columnist continued the debate, writing that there was now a movement by some gay rights proponents to link sexual rights with democracy.
Professor Azmi Hassan from University Teknologi Malaysia said these groups were equating gay rights with human rights and the Arab revolution, on the basis that these were different aspects of the struggle for democracy.
“What is most worrying is that the benchmark for a mature democracy is that a country is gay-friendly,” he wrote.
His comments came just a day after a pro-Umno blog slammed an Australian journalist who wrote about Prime Minister Najib Razak’s wife Rosmah Mansor’s alleged shopping spree in Sydney recently.
The anonymous blogger, writing under the name Pisau.Net (pisau means knife in Malay), hit out at the opposition for blowing up the issue in the Sydney Morning Herald, and referred to the journalist Andrew Hornery as a gay reporter.
“Anything that has to do with Pakatan (Rakyat) must be gay. The latest is the slander against Rosmah,” the blogger wrote.
Such allegations have been rife ever since Anwar was acquitted earlier this month, with political rivals pointing out on the day of the acquittal that the judge had not fully exonerated him of sodomizing his male aide. The case, they said, had merely been thrown out on the grounds that DNA evidence used by the prosecution may have been compromised.
The judge has yet to issue his full judgment, and the prosecution has appealed against the acquittal.
Whether the campaign against Anwar will be effective remains to be seen.
Sivamurugan said there may be some impact, but warned that it could also backfire if the attacks on the opposition leader were seen to be too excessive.
“It may end up gaining Anwar sympathy, as people may be tired of this issue that has been playing for almost 14 years,” he said, referring to the time Anwar was first charged with sodomy in 1998.
Prominent lawyer Azhar Harun, who writes a popular blog on political issues, too felt that the Malay community might feel sympathy if they believed the attacks on the opposition leader and his family had crossed the line.
Indeed, earlier surveys carried out by the independent Merdeka Centre have shown that while Malay-Muslims tend to be conservative about religious issues, such issues do not play a major role when they vote.
Said Azhar: “I think many Malaysians have had enough of this. It’s overkill.”
Reprinted courtesy of Straits Times Indonesia. To subscribe to Straits Times Indonesia and/or the Jakarta Globe call 021 2553 5055.