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Malaysia: Religious authorities detain trans women in raid

Sixteen women fined and sentenced to jail for breaking sharia law

Lawyer Aston Paiva argues that Section 66 violates the Federal Constitution, saying it conflicts with the fundamental guarantees of freedom of expression, the right to live with dignity, the right to privacy and to livelihood, as well as to be free from gender-based discrimination. Credit: hrw.org

Religious authorities in the Malaysian state of Negeri Sembilan raided a wedding June 8, detaining 16 transgender women and one minor for violating a 1992 sharia law that prohibits them from expressing their gender identity.

The 16 women were fined 950 ringgits (about $324 Canadian) and sentenced to a week in jail but face the prospect of serving six months in prison if they fail to pay the fines, while the minor has been ordered to undergo a year’s counselling with the Negeri Sembilan Islamic Religious Affairs Department, Malaysia Today reports. Justice for Sisters, a campaign that advocates for the mak nyah (male-to-female transsexual) community, has initiated a fundraising drive to help the women pay the fines, even as a lawyer is attempting to get the women’s sentences reduced.

Last month, three transgender women from the same state filed a court challenge to Section 66 of the Syariah Criminal Enactment 1992, which forbids “any male person who, in any public place wears a woman’s attire or poses as a woman,” a measure that is often used to harass and arrest transgender women, Human Rights Watch reports. While all three identify as female, they are described as male on identification documents.

A Free Malaysia Today report says the women’s lawyer, Aston Paiva, has argued that Section 66 violates the Federal Constitution, which he says should supersede the 1992 law. He contends that Section 66 conflicts with the constitution’s fundamental guarantees of freedom of expression, the right to live with dignity, the right to privacy and to livelihood, as well as to be free from gender-based discrimination.

The hearing in the Court of Appeals was adjourned to July 17.