In 1995, the Religious Affairs Minister of the state of Selangor praised the Islamic Badar vigilante groups who had organised in 1994 to assist in the arrest of 7,000 for engaging in "un Islamic" activities such as homosexuality.Human Rights Watch reports that state-level Sharia (Islamic) laws prohibit cross-dressing, and transgender people "face arbitrary arrest, physical and sexual assault, imprisonment, discriminatory denial of health care and employment, and other abuses." Transgender individuals have often been arrested by police officers under the civil laws governing "public indecency", and if they are Muslim, can be further charged by religious officers under Sharia Laws for "impersonating" women.
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Social attitudes towards the LGBT community are also shaped by Islam, the official religion in Malaysia.
Human Rights Watch states that "Discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people is pervasive in Malaysia" Malaysia retains its colonial era criminal ban on sodomy (as well as oral sex), broadly defined to include both heterosexual and homosexual acts, with possible punishment including fines, prison sentences of up to twenty years, and even corporal punishment.
Instead, a loose coalition of non-governmental organisations, artists, and individuals organise the annual sexuality rights festival Seksualiti Merdeka.
Seksualiti Merdeka, meaning "Independent Sexuality", is an annual festival consisting of talks, performances, screenings, workshops, and forums to promote sexuality rights as a human right, to empower marginalised individuals and communities, and to create platforms for advocacy.
The arrest came shortly after Anwar claimed to be in a position to challenge the governing coalition after the opposition's successes in the March elections.