Malaysia’s tourism minster has caused outrage by claiming there are no gay people in his country.
Datuk Mohammaddin bin Ketapi said at a trade show in Berlin that he didn’t think ‘we have anything like that in our country’.
He had been asked by reporters at ITB Berlin tourism fair on Tuesday if the Muslim-majority nation was safe for Jewish and gay visitors.
After trying to avoid the question, Ketapi told the German newspaper Tagesspiegel that, ‘I don’t think we have anything like that in our country’.
He added he cannot be certain, ‘but one thing I can say: we do not have that kind of situation’.
Ketapi had been describing the natural beauty of Malaysia when he was asked about the safety of the country where homosexuality is illegal.
Malaysia’s Minister for Tourism Datuk Mohamaddin bin Ketapi at a welcome ceremony at a booth promoting his country during the International Tourism Trade Fair (ITB) in Berlin
Despite efforts by Malaysian officials to downplay his comments, Ketapi’s remarks could derail attempts to entice more tourists to visit Malaysia.
The country has set itself a target of receiving 30 million visitors in 2019.
An aide told the Malaysian news website Malaysiakini that Ketapi’s comments were made in a personal capacity, but were in line with official Malaysian government policy, which does not recognise the LGBT community.
The aide, who remain anonymous, said: ‘Tourists coming to Malaysia like any other country are welcome regardless of their creed, sexuality, religion or colour.’
The Malaysian government has faced widespread criticism for its policies towards LGBT and Jewish people.
Under Malaysian law, homosexuality is defined as ‘unnatural offences’ and can be punished with 20 years in prison, flogging, and a fine.
Ketapi told reporters, ‘I don’t think we have anything like that in our country’ at the ITB Berlin tourism trade fair
German Green party politician and LGBT activist, Volker Beck, tried to exclude Malaysia from exhibiting at the Berlin event, one of the world’s largest tourism fiars, saying that its government has specific policies which are discriminatory to gay people and Jewish people.
Beck told German broadcaster Deutsche Welle: ‘Homophobia and anti-Semitism cannot be a partner country. This regime must not be courted.’
Ministers have previously said that gay people in Malaysia should not come out and keep their ‘identities secret’.
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said homosexuality was part of ‘Western values’, adding, ‘don’t force it on us’.
The 93-year-old prime minister also described Jews as ‘hooked-nosed’ in an interview with the BBC’s Hard Talk last October.
Ketapi made the comments about gay people when he was asked about the safety of Jewish and gay visitors in his country
When asked about his description of Jews in his book The Malay Dilemma, he said: ‘They are hook-nosed. Many people called the Malays fat-nosed. We didn’t object, we didn’t go to war for that.’
In January, the Malaysian government said it would not allow Israelis athletes to take part in the World Para Swimming championships in Kuching in July in response to the ‘continuous Israeli oppression of the Palestinian people’.
As a result of Bin Mohamad’s discrimination, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) stripped Malaysia of its host status of the event.
Human Rights Watch said in 2015 that, ‘discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people is pervasive in Malaysia’.
Ketapi’s comment echo former Iranian regime president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who told Columbia University students in 2007 that, ‘in Iran, we don’t have homosexuals, like in your country’.