- Malaysia’s tourism minister told reporters that there are no gay people in the country.
- Datuk Mohammaddin bin Ketapi told reporters, according to Germany’s Berliner Morgenpost: "Homosexuality? I think we do not have such a thing in our country."
- Malaysia currently outlaws gay sex, which can be punished with 20 years of imprisonment or being publicly caned.
- Officials in Ketapi’s ministry claimed he has misspoken, but said that tourists have to follow Malaysian local laws.
Malaysia’s tourism minister is in hot water after claiming that there are no gay people in his country, which has a population of 32 million.
When asked whether LGBT tourists would be safe in the conservative, majority-Muslim country on Tuesday, Datuk Mohammaddin bin Ketapi said, according to Germany’s Berliner Morgenpost: "Homosexuality? I think we do not have such a thing in our country. Whether it’s safe or not, I can not answer."
Malaysia currently outlaws gay sex under a penal law set up during British colonial times.
Any person who "commits, or abets the commission of, or procures or attempts to procure" sex with someone of the same gender can face up to 20 years in prison or caning and a fine.
AP Photo/Yam G-Jun
Malaysia has an active LGBT community, but members often risk government punishment. The country publicly caned two women who pleaded guilty to attempting to have lesbian sex last September.
Ketapi had initially avoided answering questions on whether gay and Jewish people would be welcome in Malaysia, Deutsche Welle reported. His comments came during a tourism conference in Berlin.
Malaysia’s tourism ministry tried to claw back Ketapi’s comments shortly after he made them, telling Singapore’s Straits Times newspaper that Ketapi actually meant to say that there is no LGBT-focused tourism campaign in Malaysia.
INSIDER has contacted Malaysia’s tourism ministry for comment.
"As a main tourism destination in Asia, Malaysia has never and will not do anything to stop our guests based on their sexual orientation, religion and cultural belief," the ministry said.
It added, however, that Malaysia has its own local laws — including those on homosexuality — and that "these laws must be respected and followed, not just by foreign tourists but Malaysians as well."
Malaysia’s 93-year-old prime minister, Mahathir Mohamed, has been accused of making both homophobic and anti-Semitic comments in the past.
In 2001, during his first stint as prime minister, Mahathir said he would bar an openly gay British cabinet member if he came with a partner.
"’It’s a difference of values,” he said at the time, as cited by The New York Times. ”British people accept homosexual ministers, but if they ever come here, bringing their boyfriend along, we’ll throw them out.”
AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein
Last October Mahathir also described Jewish people as "hook-nosed" and blamed them for the ongoing unrest in the Middle East.
"If you are going to be truthful, the problem in the Middle East began with the creation of Israel. That is the truth," he told the BBC.
Malaysia currently hopes to attract 30 million tourists a year by 2020, and is currently on around 26 million tourists a year, Malaysia’s New Straits Times newspaper reported.
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