Removal of activists’ portraits is censorship, says ex-Bar president

Ragunath Kesavan. (Bernama pic)

PETALING JAYA: A former Malaysian Bar president has joined the chorus of people criticising a minister and the Penang government for removing two portraits featuring lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) activists in an exhibition to display patriotism.

Ragunath Kesavan said the response by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Mujahid Yusof Rawa, and by extension the Pakatan Harapan government, was unacceptable.

He said even the conduct of the Penang government to meekly follow instructions left much to be desired.

“Removing the portraits is a form of massive censorship,” he told FMT.

Yesterday, the portraits of LGBT activists Pang Khee Teik and Nisha Ayub were removed from the “Stripes and Strokes” exhibition which is part of the George Town Festival.

Penang state secretary Farizan Darus said he had ordered the removal of the portraits of the two following complaints from the Prime Minister’s Department and the public.

Farizan said he would have ordered for the photos to be taken down earlier if he had been present at the opening. The senior civil servant said promoting LGBT was against “our values.”.

Ragunath said Pang and Nisha were citizens, voters and taxpayers and they had every right to express their love for the country.

“The issue here is not about promoting LGBT activities but their patriotism to the nation. Removing their photographs is the worst kind of discrimination” he said.

He also questioned why the state government was acceding to the directive of Putrajaya.

“What has happened to noble values like the right to freedom of expression and rights of the individual espoused by the DAP-led state government?” he asked.

Ragunath said the public expected an explanation from Penang Chief Minister Chow Kow Yeow.

“To me, it is a big embarrassment as the exhibition is being held in the state,” he added.

Activist Marina Mahathir subsequently told the organisers to remove her portrait as well, saying she was standing in solidarity with the two.

Another activist, Siti Kasim, who is also a Bar Council member, said she too had asked for her picture to be taken down.

Ragunath also took Mujahid to task following his announcement that the government was drawing up a dress code for Muslim employees in the private sector.

He noted that Transport Minister Anthony Loke had said the government would leave it to the private sector, especially the airline operators, to decide on the uniforms of flight attendants as they had to receive safety certificates from local and international authorities.

“Two ministers are making contradicting statements. At least under Barisan Nasional, they consistently issued wrong statements,” he added.

LGBT activists’ portraits removed after complaints, says state secretary