Google Play Store has removed a conversion therapy app developed by the Malaysian government that claimed to help LGBT+ people “return to the right path”.
The app, called Hijrah Diri Homoseksualiti, was originally released by the country’s Department of Islamic Development (JAKIM) in 2016. JAKIM sparked an international outcry after tweeting about the app on 9 March and disclosed that it was available to be downloaded from the Google Play Store.
Google has now pulled the controversial conversion therapy app from its store for violations against the digital giant’s policies. Under Google’s guidelines, apps cannot “attempt to deceive users” or “enable dishonest behaviour including but not limited to apps which are determined to be functionally impossible”.
Google told the Guardian: “Whenever an app is flagged to us, we investigate against our Play Store policies and if violations are found we take appropriate action to maintain a trusted experience for all.”
Hijrah Diri Homoseksualiti claimed in its description on the Google app store that it would offer “suggestions, ideas, explanations and interpretations” to help users “overcome the problem of homosexuality”.
JAKIM said in a follow-up tweet that the app allegedly contains an “eBook that refers to the true experience of a gay man who migrated during Ramadan to abandon homosexual behaviour”.
Rachel Chhoa-Howard, Malaysia researcher for Amnesty International, told the Guardian that conversion therapy is a “deeply discriminatory” and “harmful practice” that cause cause “long-lasting damage to those who are subject to it”.
“It has been criminalised in many countries,” Chhoa-Howard said. “We call on the Malaysian authorities to immediately abandon its use of Hijrah Diri, and instead ensure respect and protect LGBTI rights in the country.”
The conversion therapy app was hugely concerning for human rights activists as LGBT+ people in Malaysia face execution, torture and decades in prison for living their truth.
Malaysia’s penal code criminalised sex between same-sex partners, which it described as “carnal intercourse against the order of nature”, with up to 20 years in prison and whipping.
According to Human Dignity Trust, there was a “serious crackdown” on the LGBT+ community after the new government came into power in 2018, resulting in a spike in arrests and assaults against LGBT+ people.
Human Rights Watch has denounced the Malaysian government for not acting on “discrimination against LGBT+ people”, adding it “remains pervasive and appears to be on the rise”.
The nonprofit warned that authorities have proposed a “range of changes to Sharia (Islamic law) regulations” that would harm the LGBT+ community including “harsher sentences for same-sex conduct and gender expression”.
Nur Sajat, a trans social media personality and businesswoman, made headlines after she fled Malaysia to escape persecution and charges of “insulting Islam”, which carries a prison sentence of up to three years.