Amid an intense backlash, Malaysia’s Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture was forced to clarify its minister’s controversial comments regarding homosexuality in the country.
Ahead of this year’s ITB Berlin travel fair, Minister Datuk Mohammaddin bin Ketapi reportedly suggested that Malaysia has no gay people, referring to the group as “anything like that.”
“I don’t think we have anything like that in our country,” he told German reporters on Tuesday, Deutsche Welle noted.
We hope that our presence at ITB will encourage you to consider Malaysia as your ideal partner for your tourism growth and business expansion and look forward to seeing more tourism investment in Malaysia.#MKetapi #MyMOTAC #RakanMOTAC #VisitMalaysia2020 #ITBBerlin pic.twitter.com/q99tL3KTE3— Mohamaddin Ketapi (@MKetapi) March 5, 2019
According to the outlet, the minister was responding to a question whether gays are welcome in Malaysia, a Muslim-majority country.
He reportedly dodged an initial question asking whether the country is safe for both gay and Jewish tourists.
Interestingly, the controversial statement came just after Ketapi spoke about Malaysia’s natural beauty and hospitality for minutes.
The country, which relies on tourism as a major economic driver, expects 30 million visitors this year.
I believe ITB Berlin is the perfect platform for us to promote the cultural diversity and beautiful attractions of Malaysia. It gives us the opportunity to reach out in partnership and promotion with the rest of Europe.#MKetapi #MyMOTAC #RakanMOTAC #VisitMalaysia2020 #ITBBerlin pic.twitter.com/Y5OGpheHIU— Mohamaddin Ketapi (@MKetapi) March 6, 2019
Many slammed Ketapi’s comments, including gay rights campaigner Thilaga Sulathireh, who described it as “outlandish (and) completely disconnected from reality,” according to CNN.
“With the exception of a few politicians, the rest hold varying degrees of discriminatory and exclusionary position on LGBTIQ people and issues, willfully or otherwise,” Sulathireh told the outlet, adding that the minister’s statement is “also an embarrassingly ignorant comment which carries high socioeconomic costs.”
Mah Hang Soon, deputy president of the opposition Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), also condemned Ketapi’s remarks, suggesting that the minister should have watched his words.
“He was asked by a reporter if Malaysia is safe for homosexuals. All he needed to say was that Malaysia is a safe country and every tourist is safe here,” Mah said, according to The Star.
We all look forward to utilizing this platform to network, explore potential partnerships and promote Malaysia ahead of the Visit Malaysia 2020 campaign scheduled for next year, during which we hope to record 30 million tourist arrivals. #MKetapi #VisitMalaysia2020 #ITBBerlin pic.twitter.com/uAL0mlZGB5— Mohamaddin Ketapi (@MKetapi) March 6, 2019
In the wake of heavy criticism, the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture released a statement clarifying Ketapi’s comments.
“As a main tourism destination in Asia, Malaysia has never and will not do anything to stop our guests based on their sexual orientation, religion and cultural belief,” the ministry said, according to The Strait Times.
It added that it has no plans of holding LGBTQ-oriented tourism campaigns and pointed out that Malaysia has its stand on LGBTQ issues, as well as laws to protect tourist attractions.
“These laws must be respected and followed, not just by foreign tourists but Malaysians as well.”
Malaysia is currently listed as one of 72 countries that criminalize homosexuality, according to The Star’s R.AGE. Outside Shariah Law — which varies per state — the country does not criminalize homosexuality per se, but Section 377 of its Penal Code criminalizes the act of sodomy, which may be committed by anyone regardless of sexual orientation.
Featured Images via Twitter / @mketapi