Malaysia court rules in favor of transgender rights

In a landmark decision, a court in Kuala Lumpur has ruled that Sharia law discriminates against transgender individuals. Three men who identify as women had filed the suit after continual harassment by police.

A three-judge panel in Malaysia handed down a ruling on Friday which has been dubbed “historic” in the country’s treatment of its transgender community.

The question at issue was whether authorities at a state level could ban people who identify as a different gender from cross-dressing or any other displays of transgender identity. Three men who have undergone hormone treatment had filed the case after being arrested in the southern state of Negerei Sembilan in 2010. A lower court ruled against them in two years later, prompting them to take their case to a higher court in the capital, Kuala Lumpur.

“[The state law] has the effect of denying the appellants and other sufferers of GID (gender identity disorder) to move freely in public spaces,” the judges ruled on Friday, calling the law “degrading, oppressive and inhuman.”

The court also noted that the current laws in place were aimed at prohibiting a homosexual lifestyle and that the transgender case had “nothing to do with homosexuality.”

It was not immediately clear whether the Islamic Religious Department, which enforces Islamic law across Malaysia’s 13 states, would file an appeal with the Federal Court.

‘This will be a precedent’

The plaintiffs’ lawyer, Aston Paiva, called the ruling “historic.”

“This will be a precedent… This court binds all other high courts,” Paiva said.

A transgender activist also praised the judges’ “landmark” decision.

“We are thankful and overjoyed. It is a victory for human rights,” Nisha Ayub, the head of the group Justice for Sisters, said.

Over 60 percent of Malaysia’s 30 million inhabitants are Muslim, with the remainder adhering to Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and other Asian religions.

According to Human Rights Watch, transgenders have faced increasing harassment in the ethnically and religiously diverse nation in recent years with the rise of a conservative Islam. The New York-based group has said the southeast Asian country is one of the worst for transgender people, citing widespread molestation, sexual abuse and the threat of arrest.

kms/tj (AP, AFP)

Date 07.11.2014