Malaysia's High Court on Thursday, March 1 dismissed a bid by activists to challenge a police ban on an LGBT arts festival, in a rare legal case involving equal rights in the Muslim-majority nation.
Organizers of the “Sexual Independence” festival had hoped to overturn a ban imposed last November on the event, which would have featured musical performances, talks on sexuality issues, and a poster exhibition.
The festival was meant to promote dialogue about LGBT issues in the socially conservative Southeast Asian country, where a young gay man received death threats in 2010 after posting a YouTube clip defending his sexuality.
Police ordered activists to scrap the event after Muslim organizations said it would disrupt public order.
High Court Judge Rohana Yusuf ruled Thursday in favor of government lawyers who said police were empowered to declare the ban.
Festival organizers said they would appeal the verdict.
“Once again, we see a situation where the voices of extremists have drowned out our voices promoting tolerance, moderation, understanding, and acceptance,” they said in a statement.
International rights groups had urged the court not to reject the petition.
“The police ban looked like blatant discrimination in 2011 and looks that way now,” Graeme Reid, director of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights program at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement this week.
Rights activists say homophobia is evident in many government policies, including a law that makes sodomy punishable by a 20-year prison sentence and censorship rules that forbid movies and song lyrics that promote acceptance of gay people.