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MALAYSIA -áFebá22,á2006

Human rights in Malaysia took another downturn today as the English-language newspaper, The Malay Mail, used their front page to equate homosexuals with prostitutes. Referring to recent high profile police raids on Kuala Lumpur discos, spas and saunas popular with gay men, the paper used local slang to slur the country's gay citizens: "Round-up of the Day! Chicks [female prostitutes], Ducks [male prostitutes] and Gays."

In a full page exposÚ, the paper chose to display pictures of patrons shot by police inside a private men's club, unprecedented behavior from the local media.

An article which appeared last week in the Malay press, luridly detailing suggestive activities inside a popular local men's spa, seems to have been the trigger for the police actions against a number of clubs, saunas, and massage businesses.

Subsequent one-sided articles have appeared in the press from a Muslim group asking for harsher penalties against homosexual activities and even interviewing a Mom who was surprised to learn that her son was gay and blamed Malaysian gay Internet sites for his natural inclinations.

The Kuala Lumpur police have been under intense public scrutiny recently since a woman in police custody being forced to perform humiliating squats in the nude was captured on a mobile phone camera and a group of senior citizens caught gambling at a closed coffee-shop during the recent Chinese New Year celebrations forcibly had their heads shaved. The current police crackdown, which is also affecting straight businesses such as nightclubs, is seen by local business leaders as a PR exercise to recover respect from the more conservative elements in Malaysia's multi-cultural society.

The raids, however, seem to have uncovered little evidence of wrongdoing other than license irregularities and traces of drugs in the urine of a small number of patrons. The media, however, has chosen to sensationalize the raids, highlighting police reports of men discovered showering in the nude, wearing towels, and finding three condoms and a pack of lubricant.

Meanwhile, business licensing board inspectors have forced gyms, spas and massage businesses to remove condoms provided by Malaysia's main MSM (men who have sex with men) AIDS/HIV outreach organization, the PT Foundation, jeopardizing health and well-being during a time when HIV infection rates have risen dramatically among young gay men in neighboring Singapore and Thailand.

According to a PT Foundation MSM Program spokesman, local gay businesses are too frightened of being cited by police and inspectors and so refuse to carry free safer sex educational materials other than mild mannered posters.

PT Foundation is also concerned that media exposÚs on police raids of such places will only serve to drive MSM activity deeper underground, making it even more difficult for MSM-targeted harm reduction programs to work.

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