Last edited: November 06, 2004

Malaysian PM Rebuked for Threat to UK Gay Ministers

The Guardian, November 2, 2001
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Nicholas Watt, political correspondent

Britain issued a rebuke last night to the veteran Malaysian prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, after he threatened to expel gay British ministers if they visited his country with their partners.

In a terse statement, the Foreign Office said: "Jack Straw strongly considers that peopleís private lives are private." His remarks were seen as support for Ben Bradshaw, the openly gay Foreign Office minister, whose portfolio includes Malaysia.

Foreign Office sources insisted that Mr. Bradshaw, who met the Malaysian high commissioner to London within weeks of his appointment in June, would continue to cover the country.

The diplomatic spat flared up after Dr. Mohamad threatened to throw out gay British ministers if they "come here bringing their boyfriend". In an interview with Radio 4ís Today programme Dr. Mohamad, who had his former deputy, Anwar Ibrahim, jailed on charges of sodomy and corruption, said that homosexuality was unacceptable in his predominantly Muslim country.

"The British people accept homosexual ministers but if they ever come here bringing their boyfriend along, we will throw them out," he said.

Peter Tatchell, the gay rights activist, said his comments were not surprising in the light of Malaysiaís poor human rights record. "In Malaysia, a consenting gay relationship is punishable by up to 20 years jail plus flogging and this is probably one of the harshest penalties for gay relations anywhere in the world," he said.

Mr. Tatchell warned that the prime ministerís remarks showed the nature of some of the countries involved in the international coalition against terrorism. Some of Britainís "allies" were "very unstable, very unreliable friends.

"It does appear that the Malaysian prime minister does appear to be dictating to our government who it should send as its representatives," he said.

Supporters of Mr. Ibrahim rejected the charges against him, insisting that he was imprisoned after he dared to challenge the prime ministerís authority. Dr. Mohamad claimed that the due process of law had been followed.

"We canít have a deputy who is homosexual, not in this country," he said. "So we had to take action. In this country a homosexual is not acceptable as the prime minister."

Malaysia has condemned the September 11 attacks on Washington and New York. But Dr. Mohamad, who is under pressure from opposition Islamist parties, is refusing to support the bombing of Afghanistan.

"We do not believe that attacking Afghanistan is going to help," he said. "If we are seen to be going all out unthinkingly supporting America we will lose support, even from our own people. They have to find the roots of the problem. People donít blow themselves up for nothing. They must be thinking about something."

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