12 Transgender Women Arrested in Penang, Malaysia Under Violation of Anti-Crossdressing Law
Twelve transgender women were arrested and detained this Wednesday, March 2, 2016 at Chulia Street, Penang. The women were put under investigation for various charges, five people being held under investigation for gang robbery, and the other six being charged with violation of Section 28 of the 1996 Syariah Criminal Enactment (wherein biological males are prohibited from dressing up with feminine clothing). The last of the women is from Indonesia, and is charged with the violation of her Social Visit pass.
As of now, there are no details about the exact conditions of the twelve detainees. Justice for Sisters, an organization advocating for the rights and safety of transgender women being criminalized under the Malaysian Syariah law, has released a statement pushing for a more humane and equal treatment for MTFs in the country. In their statement, Justice for Sisters raised valid questions regarding the conditions of the arrest. The women were apparently arrested while asleep in their hotel rooms, which goes against the literal provisions of Section 28. The law criminalizes “any male person who, in any public place, wears a woman's attire and poses as a woman for immoral purposes”. The arrest having been made in private accommodations raises an important concern about arbitrary use of power based on discriminatory beliefs without following due process.
Another issue that Justice for Sisters raises is the need for a more specific guideline regarding prison accommodations for transgender detainees. Transgender persons may be subject to prison violence from transphobic inmates, and YB Chong Eng, member of the Malaysian Parlianment, seeks to ensure their right to safety by recommending separate cells for transmen and women.
ASEAN SOGIE Caucus is in support of Justice for Sisters' statement, and joins the organization as it calls to attention how Section 28 goes against the internationally established fundamental human rights to freedom of expression, self-determination, and movement of transgender persons. We reaffirm their call for a repeal of all laws that criminalize transpersons based on their gender identity and expression, and cite these policies as discriminatory and a gateway for further oppressive, violent action against LGBTIQ persons in the country. We push forward any affirmative measure, like YB Chong Eng's recommendation, that would help ensure the safety and rights of Malaysia's transgender community.