By Beh Lih Yi
KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 15 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A Hong Kong pop star said on Thursday she had been denied permission to perform in Malaysia because she campaigns for gay rights, amid criticism from activists of rising intolerance toward the LGBT community in the Muslim-majority nation.
Singer Denise Ho, who is openly gay, said Malaysian officials told her promoter that her application to perform in the capital Kuala Lumpur in April was refused due to her support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.
The LGBT community is routinely persecuted in Malaysia, where gay sex is criminalised - punishable by up to 20 years in prison, caning, or a fine - and the government sanctions campaigns seeking to curb homosexuality and transgenderism.
"I am disappointed," Ho, one of Asia's most famous Cantopop stars, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation from Hong Kong.
"You would think that in 2018, where many countries are pushing for gay rights and same-sex marriages, that the world would be progressing," she added. "But in fact it is not."
A Malaysian government minister did not specify why the application was turned down, but said all performances in the country must be done in accordance to "local law and values".
"Malaysia welcomes any artist who projects a wholesome value," the country's communications and multimedia minister, Salleh Said Keruak, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Ho, who came out publicly in 2012, said she had performed in Malaysia in 2006 without any issues. At least 2,000 people had been expected to attend her concert in April, she added.
"Everyone has the right to be themselves. We can be openly gay as someone else can be Christian or Muslim," Ho said.
An article by a Malaysian newspaper on how to identify LGBT people sparked outrage on social media this week.
Last year Malaysian health authorities launched a contest on how to "prevent" homosexuality and transgenderism, though it later dropped it after pressure from LGBT groups.
Neighbouring Indonesia, the country with the world's largest Muslim population, is on the cusp of revising its national criminal code to impose restrictions on same-sex relations and consensual sex between men and women outside marriage.
Yet elsewhere in the region, Taiwan ruled last year that same-sex couples can marry, in a huge boost for the gay rights movement in Asia, and Hong Kong will host the 2022 Gay Games, the first Asian city to hold the sports and cultural event.
(Reporting by Beh Lih Yi @behlihyi, Editing by Kieran Guilbert; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.