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Friday, October 30, 1998 Published at 23:07 GMT

World: Asia-Pacific

Anti-gay campaign raises fears

A transvestite beauty contest pushed back boundaries

Human rights activists in Malaysia fear a wave of violent attacks on homosexuals after the emergence of a new anti-gay movement.

A growing tolerance of alternative sexuality was thought to be emerging in the relatively conservative country. A recent transvestite beauty contest pushed back some boundaries.

But the newly formed Anti-Homosexuality Movement has launched a campaign against the gay community. It is planning road shows and religious rallies to counter what it calls sexual immorality.

"Two men together is wrong. We want to see men with women, and women with men. We must make people aware of the dangers of homosexuality," says one of the members, Zaharin Mohammed Yasin.

[ image: Some say the group is attempting to curry favour with the embattled PM]
Some say the group is attempting to curry favour with the embattled PM
The BBC's David Willis in Kuala Lumpur says the timing of the campaign is crucial. It comes just a few days before the high-profile trial of Malaysia's sacked Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, who is charged with committing homosexual acts and corruption.

Some reports have said the movement is politically motivated and a none-too-subtle act of political support for Malaysia's embattled Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

Some fear that following a wave of increasingly violent anti-government protests the creation of the movement could lead to the harassment of homosexuals and ultimately a witch hunt.

Sharaad Kuttan of the Suaram Human Rights Group says: "I think what is worst in all this is this culture of incitement. Now it is gays and lesbians, tomorrow it could be any other minority or something larger."

Mr Mahathir's own daughter, who has helped to stage a transvestite fundraising event, has condemned the new group as dangerous and intolerant - criticism which has delighted the homosexual community.

Gays continue to hold doubts about sexual tolerance in Malaysia - a predominantly Muslim nation, where homosexuality is an offence against Islam and is still against criminal law.

Zahim Albakri, artistic director of a popular local play, says many homosexuals are similar to one of his play's characters - they are open about their sexuality to friends but will not come out publicly.

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