Types of criminalisation

  • Criminalises LGBT people
  • Criminalises sexual activity between males
  • Criminalises sexual activity between females
  • Criminalises the gender expression of trans people

Same-sex sexual activity is prohibited under the Penal Code 1936, which criminalises acts of ‘carnal knowledge against the order of nature’ and ‘gross indecency’. These provisions carry a maximum penalty of twenty years’ imprisonment with whipping. Both men and women are criminalised under this law. Although the law does not explicitly criminalise transgender people, they are often arrested under the Penal Code.

The law was inherited from the British during the colonial period, in which the English criminal law was imposed upon Malaysia. Malaysia retained the provision upon independence and continues to criminalise same-sex sexual activity today.

There is evidence of the law being enforced in recent years, and transgender people are particularly vulnerable to arrest under the law. Since the 2018 election a crackdown on the LGBT community has been underway, with several reports of arrest, prosecution, and the imposition of corporal punishment. A high-profile case saw a prominent transgender woman flee the country in 2021 following threats of arrest against her based upon her gender identity.

There have been consistent reports of discrimination and violence being committed against LGBT people in recent years, with transgender people again being particularly vulnerable to physical and verbal abuse.

Sexual Offence Law Assessment

We’ve also assessed Malaysia’s sexual offence laws against international human rights standards. Not only does Malaysia criminalise same-sex sexual activity and expression of gender identity, it also fails to properly protect other vulnerable groups, such as women and children, from sexual offences.

Find out more


In October, police raided a party being held by LGBT people, arresting at least 20 individuals for ‘cross-dressing’ and allegedly encouraging vice. Officials report that the arrests were made under Section 28 of the Syariah Criminal Offences (Federal Territories) Act 1997, which criminalises a “male person posing as a woman” and can incur a penalty of 1,00 ringgit (£185) and/or a imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year.  Reports suggested that 40 religious officers backed by the police came into the venue which held some 1,000 participants. Following the raid Assistant Police Commissioner Noor Dellhan Yahaya vowed to “step up operations and inspections on clubs.”


In February, the Minister for Islamic Affairs called for action to be taken against a prominent transgender entrepreneur, who posted pictures of herself in women’s clothing at a religious event. After the woman failed to appear in court, Selangor state issued a warrant for her arrest, announcing it was deploying 122 religious affairs officers to detain her. The woman was later revealed to have fled the country, to Thailand where she was grated asylum, despite Malaysian authorities seeking  her extradition. Malaysian authorities insisted efforts to return her to to Malaysia were not intended  to “punish” but rather to “educate” her.

A report noted that according to LGBT activists, Islamic laws have increasingly been used to target gay people in Malaysia, with a rise in arrests and prosecutions.


The US Department of State report found that transgender people are often charged with ‘indecent behaviour’ offences, and face fines and a prison sentence.


The US Department of State report noted that in November, the Selangor State Sharia court sentenced five men to six to seven months’ imprisonment, six strokes of the cane, and a fine for ‘attempting to have intercourse against the order of nature.’ The sentencing of the men was later challenged, leading to the Federal Court issuing a ruling invalidating the state law that criminalised consensual same-sex relations (see Law and Legal Development, above).


The US Department of State report suggested that the criminalising provisions were ‘rarely enforced’.

In May, opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was released from detention after receiving a royal pardon for same-sex sexual activity charges, a charge he denied and one viewed internationally as politically motivated. Ibrahim had been in prison since 2015. 

Following the new government coming into power in May, a serious crackdown on the LGBT community began, and reports of arrests and assaults of LGBT people increased. In August, an LGBT venue was raided and twenty men were arrested. In the same week, a Sharia court ordered a lesbian couple, who were allegedly caught having sex in a car, to be caned. The report noted this was the first time in years that such a punishment had been handed down. Human Rights Watch cited human rights activists who said that the courts had never actually imposed caning sentences before 2018.


In February, the leader of Malaysia’s opposition, Anwar Ibrahim, was jailed for five years after losing his appeal against his conviction on sodomy charges.

In June, a Sharia court in the north-eastern Malaysian state of Kelantan convicted nine transgender women under a law that prohibits “a male person posing as a woman”. All of the women received fines, and two were sentenced to jail terms of two months.

Discrimination and Violence


The US Department of State report found that detained transgender women served sentences in male prisons and were subjected to verbal and sexual abuse. State authorities allegedly forced LGBT people to participate in conversion therapy, which had been endorsed by the government (see below). LGBT people reported discrimination in employment, housing, and access to services.


A survey by a local transgender group found that more than two-thirds of transgender women experienced some form of physical or emotional abuse.

In August, a trans woman was brutally beaten on the street in Seremban while seven others watched. The attack left her with broken ribs, a broken backbone and a ruptured spleen.

[The Government will] take proactive measures to curb the growing lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender issues, and help them to return to the right path and lead a normal life.

Mujahid Yusof Rawa, Minister for Religious Affairs, 2018


In February, it was reported that the government openly endorsed conversion therapy after a government department released a video indicating that sexual orientation may be changed with “extensive training and guidance”.


In September, Nisha Ayub, a prominent and internationally recognised transgender rights activist was assaulted in by two men with iron rods by her house.


In its world report, Human Rights Watch commented on the persecution of trans people in Malaysia: “Police regularly arrest transgender persons, especially Muslims who are considered to be violating Sharia law provisions against cross-dressing, ridicule and humiliate them, and jail them in lock-ups where they are subject to physical and sexual abuse by police staff and male inmates.”


In February, an estimated 16,000 parents and teachers attended a seminar on how to curb LGBT behaviour that took place in Politeknik Seberang Prai. After opening the seminar, Malaysia’s then Deputy Education Minister told a press conference: “[homosexuality] is like a disease but it can be cured with early intervention.”


An Equal Rights Trust report documents many instances of persecution and discrimination of Malaysian sexual minorities, including discriminatory police conduct and violence as well as other forms of discriminatory conduct.


Local Organisations

Pelangi Campaign

a local organisation advocating for the rights of LGBT people through outreach and public awareness campaigns.

PT Foundation

a community organisation supporting people living with HIV, including LGBT people.

Related Countries


Singapore criminalises same-sex sexual activity between men. Sentences include a maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment.


Two provinces of Indonesia criminalise same-sex sexual activity between men and between women. The gender expression of trans people is criminalised under the federal law. Sentences include a maximum penalty of eight years’ imprisonment and 100 lashes.


Brunei criminalises same-sex sexual activity between men and between women. The gender expression of trans people is also criminalised. Sentences include a maximum penalty of death by stoning.

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