Kuwaiti police have been torturing and sexually abusing transgender women continually since 2007, claims a report released by Human Rights Watch yesterday.
The most recent case of police violence was reported on 7 January, where three transgender women were brutally detained. Gay Middle East has also been reporting on this continual abuse and the rise of transphobia in general throughout Kuwait following the introduction of a discriminatory law in 2007 (amendment to article 198) that arbitrarily criminalizes ‘imitating the opposite sex’ in Kuwait.
Following the introduction of the amendment to article 198 of the Kuwaiti Penal Code police have been given a free hand to ‘determine’ whether a person’s appearance constitutes ‘imitating the opposite sex’ without any specific criteria being laid down for the offense.
These reports, by Human Rights Watch and Gay Middle East, reveal how transgender women (individuals born male but identify as female) suffer daily persecution, physical, sexual, and emotional abuse both at the hands of the police and the public at large.
Speaking with Gay Middle East, a transgender Kuwaiti activist pleaded: 'The situation in Kuwait is horrible for us, just intolerable. There are at least 13 transgender women in jail right now.’
She said her friends have been abused physically, emotionally and at times sexually. She also noted that blackmail for sex and money was commonplace. In addition she stated that Sheikh Jaber Mubarak Al-Hamad Al-Sabah, the Prime Minister of Kuwait, was approached by human rights activists and when he was shown a list of transgender prisoners he claimed they were arrested for ‘other offences’ and denied the whole issue. Attempts to interview the prisoners were also denied by the Kuwaiti authorities.
Human Rights Watch documented that transgender individuals were being arrested even when they were wearing male clothes, only later to be forced by police to dress in women’s clothing, who claimed that they arrested them in that attire.
In some cases documented by Human Rights Watch, transgender women said police arrested them because they had a ‘soft voice’ or ‘smooth skin’.
Despite an official recognition of gender identity disorder (GID) by the Kuwaiti Ministry of Health as a legitimate medical condition, the law criminalising ‘imitating the opposite sex’ makes no exception for people who have been diagnosed with GID. In fact there have been cases where papers have been presented to the police and were ignored.
Gay Middle East has called on the government of Kuwait to immediately start proceedings to repeal amendment to article 198 criminalising ‘imitating the opposite sex’. They want the government to halt the arrests and harassment of transgender individuals and free all individuals detained by the police. They are also calling for an investigation into the alleged police brutality and protect transgender individuals.
The Human Rights Watch report is called ‘They hunt us down for fun: Discrimination and police violence against transgender women in Kuwait.’