A Sharia (Islamic law) court in Malaysia has sentenced nine transgender women to fines, and two to one-month jail terms under a discriminatory law that prohibits “a male person posing as a woman,” Human Rights Watch said today. Religious authorities in the northeastern Malaysian state of Kelantan arrested the women in a raid on June 16, 2015, and they pled guilty the next day. A lawyer filed an appeal and the two women sentenced to jail were released on bail pending the outcome.
The raid is the latest incident in a pattern of arbitrary arrests and harassment of transgender women in Malaysia. Malaysian state governments should immediately abolish laws against “cross-dressing” and other discriminatory legislation against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, Human Rights Watch said.
“Malaysian authorities need to stop hauling transgender people into court simply because of who they are and what they wear,” said Neela Ghoshal, senior LGBT rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The government needs to recognize that the freedom to express your gender is as fundamental as any other freedom.”
In a landmark decision in November 2014, a court of appeal in Putrajaya struck down the state’s “cross-dressing” laws on the grounds that they violated constitutional rights, including the right to freedom of expression. Enforcement of the Negeri Sembilan law has been suspended, although the state government has appealed the decision to the Federal Court. But in the rest of Malaysia’s 13 states and its Federal Territories, laws against “cross-dressing” remain in force and are being used against transgender people.
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