Malaysian sex workers, allegedly harrassed by Islamic officials, are portrayed in a photograph by a Malaysian group supporting sex workers, Pertubuhan Advokasi Masyarakat Terpinggir, at a 2013 art exhibition. "Female? TG [transgender]?" a conservative Muslim woman asks them.  "Oh shit! The religious people are here!" another woman tells her friends.

photo credit:  Displayed by Pertubuhan Advokasi Masyarakat Terpinggir.

BANGKOK, Thailand -- Muslim-majority Malaysia's newly elected Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, who was jailed twice for homosexual sodomy, is warning lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders (LGBT) that they, along with communism and secularism, "would never be recognized" by his administration.

Mr. Anwar made the remarks after a popular hardline Pan-Islamic Party (PAS) official, Razman Zakaria, claimed Mr. Anwar and his allies would legalize same-sex marriage in the Southeast Asian country.

“Sometimes these [rival] politicians say if Anwar becomes prime minister, then Islam will be destroyed, secularism and communism will be established, and LGBT will be recognized,” Mr. Anwar said on January 6.

“This is just a delusion. Of course it will never happen and, God willing, under my administration it is unlikely to happen," the prime minister said.

"Such anti-LGBT sentiments, coupled with scapegoating for political expediency and survival, are dangerous," responded Thilaga Sulathireh, co-founder of Justice for Sisters.

"It has effectively increased LGBT-related misinformation and bias."

Justice for Sisters spotlights violence and persecution in Malaysia against transgender women, and has interviewed LGBT Malaysians for New York-based Human Rights Watch.

"LGBTphobia in Malaysia is increasing at an alarming state," Ms. Thilaga wrote in a published statement on January 9.

"PAS has made the LGBT issue a major social media campaign, particularly on TikTok and on some Facebook fan pages where [Mr. Anwar's] supporters are attacked with homosexual memes and jokes," Focus Malaysia online media reported on January 7.

For the past 25 years, PAS has emphasized Mr. Anwar's sodomy convictions and tried to quash his political popularity.

Mr. Anwar along with 60 percent of Malaysia's 33 million population is Muslim, which condemns LGBT as a sin.

Malaysia's secular, federal, anti-sodomy laws are in Section 377 of the penal code, a legacy of British colonialism.

It punishes "carnal knowledge against the order of nature" with up to 20 years in prison, plus a mandatory whipping.

Islamic courts also enforce anti-LGBT Shariah criminal laws, based on the Koran and applicable only to Muslims, depending on which Malaysian state they live in.

In 2021, Forbes magazine reported that Malaysia was among the "20 Most Dangerous Places For Gay Travelers".

When Mr. Anwar, 75, was elected prime minister in November 2022, he became "the first to reach the top of an Islamic country after being accused of homosexual relations," noted Rome-based Agenzia Nova online media.

In addition to imprisonment, convicted LGBT Malaysians can be whipped with a bamboo or rattan cane.

Shariah authorities publicly caned two women -- each six times -- after they pleaded guilty to lesbian sexual relations in Terengganu state, governed by PAS, in 2018.

It was the first time lesbians in Malaysia were beaten to punish them.

Mr. Anwar was Malaysia's finance minister and deputy prime minister until 1998 when he was convicted of sodomy committed in 1993, and corruption.  He denied the charges.

Mr. Anwar's wife Wan Azizah Wan, clad in a Muslim-style "tudung" head scarf, laughingly told the Washington Times in a 1998 interview, "I have six children. If you think he's bisexual, six children is a lot."

The published charges against Mr. Anwar were explicit:

Mr. Anwar was told he "voluntarily committed carnal intercourse against the order of nature against one Munawar Ahmad Anees, by introducing your penis into his anus, and you have, therefore, committed an offense under section 377B of the Penal Code."

Mr. Anwar was beaten by police while in custody, and sentenced to 15 years -- nine years for sodomy and six years for corruption.

Mr. Anwar's adopted brother, Sukma Dermawan, 37, and 51-year-old former speechwriter Anees, both confessed  -- and were found guilty -- of allowing Mr. Anwar to sodomize them. 

They were sentenced to six months in jail.

When Mr. Anwar was imprisoned, Washington expressed concern and denounced the trial.

"I am deeply disturbed by the verdicts handed down in Malaysia in the case of Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim and his adopted brother," then-Vice President Al Gore said at the time.

"The show trial the two men were forced to endure mocked international standards of justice...I hope the appeals process will overturn these verdicts."

An appeals court acquitted and freed Mr. Anwar in 2004 after he spent six years in prison for sodomy.

In 2008, a second separate conviction for homosexual sodomy delayed his political return.

He was pardoned for that conviction and released in 2018.

Malaysia's then-Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad supported the lengthy trials which were ruining his former colleague.


Richard S. Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based American foreign correspondent reporting from Asia since 1978. Excerpts from his two new nonfiction books, "Rituals. Killers. Wars. & Sex. -- Tibet, India, Nepal, Laos, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka & New York" and "Apocalyptic Tribes, Smugglers & Freaks" are available at