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Malaysia court scraps cross-dressing ban

Judge says the law is 'degrading, oppressive and inhuman'

Malaysia court scraps cross-dressing ban

A Malaysian court today scrapped a ban on Muslim transgender women wearing female clothing in Negeri Sembilan, a landmark ruling that could trigger similar challenges in other states.

The three-judge panel of the Court of Appeal unanimously ruled that the Sharia law contravened the constitution and did not give transgender women ‘the right to live with dignity.’

Judge Mohamad Yunus said the law and punishments were ‘degrading, oppressive and inhumane.’

Under of section 66 of the western state’s Sharia law, the maximum sentence for cross-dressing was six months in jail and a fine of up to RM1,000 (US$299).

The three Muslim transgender women who filed the appeal first challenged the law at Seremban state High Court in 2012, after they were arrested for cross-dressing two years before.

Makeup artists Muhamad Juzaili Mohamad Khamis, 26, Syukor Jani, 28, and Wan Fairol Wan Ismail, 30, have all been certified by doctors to have gender dysphoria and have all undergone hormone treatment. 

Muslim-majority Malaysia has a dual-justice system that separates secular and Sharia law. The latter only applies to Muslims and is a state matter.

Today’s ruling set a precedent that would have to be followed by high courts if challenges were made to similar bans in other states.

All 13 states have laws banning Muslim transgender women from wearing female clothes and three ban transgender men from wearing male clothes.

However, there is still a vague provision in the federal penal code, which applies to Muslims and non-Muslims alike, bans ‘public indecency’ and is often used to arrest transgender women.

In September, Human Rights Watch called Malaysia one of the worst countries in the world to be transgender.

The state Islamic religious department could still appeal the ruling at the federal court but it is unclear if they will.

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