Hey there, time traveller! This article was published 4/4/2016 (2274 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A gay Malaysian student has been granted refugee protection in Canada.
"I'm overwhelmed," said a tearful Hazim Ismail.
After questioning Ismail for about 45 minutes, Immigration and Refugee Board member Ron Yamauchi said Tuesday morning he'd heard enough and believed Ismail is a legitimate Convention refugee and entitled to Canada's protection.
"He's an extraordinary soul and people like him need support," said his friend and supporter Alexa Potashnik. She was one of more than a dozen supporters who rallied behind the student from Malaysia, where gay people are persecuted.
"Hazim is on our team!" Potashnik cheered as he was swarmed by supporters after the verdict.
'I feel the liberty I'm enjoying is about to be taken away... It'ssuffocating there. It's so exhausting trying to hide how you feel'
Ismail thanked them and said he wished that all LGBT refugee claimants had the support he received.
Ismail had told the tiny packed hearing room he faces persecution if he returns to Malaysia as a gay man who has been publicly outed. He’s been cut off by his family and publicly outed by tabloids and online news groups in Malaysia.
"He has reasons to be afraid to return," said his lawyer, Bashir Khan, before the hearing. "He has quit Islam, but the worst part is he’s homosexual and he’s come out."
Malaysia has laws against gay sex or "carnal intercourse against the order of nature," with punishments that include whipping and up to 20 years in prison for consensual sex between men.
Khan has represented several gay refugee claimants from countries with homophobic laws at Immigration and Refugee Board hearings. Those claiming to be in need of refugee protection because of their sexual orientation "always raise a huge doubt with the board member," said Khan. But Ismail’s story has been so widely publicized, the question of whether he’s really gay or just saying he is so he can stay in Canada isn’t an issue, the lawyer said.
That he’s gay and an atheist who renounced the state religion, Islam, put him in even more danger if he’s returned to Malaysia, said Khan. "It puts him at great risk."
Ismail said he was thrilled when he arrived in Canada as a student that he did not to have to hide his sexual identity like he did growing up in a country with a Muslim majority.
"It’s suffocating there," he said. "It’s so exhausting trying to hide how you feel."
His posts on social media about coming out made it back to his family in Malaysia, who stopped supporting him.
"They cut him off in 2014, and he survived with his boyfriend’s help," said Khan.
Ismail said he and his partner later broke up and, with no means of support, he couldn’t afford to stay in school or keep his student visa.
As an international student, he pays more than four times what Manitobans pay for university tuition. To stay in Canada as a student, he needed to keep up his tuition payments.
He said he felt he had no choice but to go public and ask for financial help. He set up a GoFundMe page to raise $5,000 to pay for his winter 2016 term at the U of W. It raised $6,440 but inadvertently made it dangerous for Ismail to return to Malaysia.
Canadian news reports of his GoFundMe page "boomeranged" back home, said Khan. "There were all these Malaysian news articles condemning him," said the lawyer, who submitted several of the articles as part of Ismail’s application for refugee protection.
Ismail was devastated when he found out his name and face were plastered all over tabloids, blogs and websites in Malaysia.
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"I had a friend who said ‘I’m worried about your safety,’" Ismail said. "I woke up one morning, and I had hundreds of friend requests" on Facebook.
Not everyone wanted to be his friend. A popular blog ran a poll asking what should happen to Ismail if he’s returned to Malaysia. Some of the responses were vulgar, a few were supportive and others were threatening.
Ismail said there is a rights group that advocates for freedom of sexual orientation but it is powerless in Malaysia. "They try but the government and the police have a lot more power."
He filed a refugee claim Feb. 4 asking Canada for protection.
"I felt I didn’t have any other choice. I’m in survival mode."
Carol Sanders Legislature reporter
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.
Section 377A of the Malaysian Penal Code criminalizes “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” which is defined as “any person who has sexual connection with another person by the introduction of the penis into the anus or mouth of the other person.” In 377B, punishment for the described sexual activity, even if consensual, is maximum 20 years in prison and whipping. Section 377C deals with non-consensual sexual activity described in 377A that may or may not lead to injury or death of the victim. Punishment is a five to 20-year prison term and possibly also whipping. In addition, several states in Malaysia implement shariah law against the Muslim population with penalties for sodomy (liwat) and lesbianism (musahaqat) amounting to fines of five thousand ringgit (US $1,532 US), three years imprisonment and/or six lashes of the whip.”