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Police are harassing trans people during Panama’s gender-based lockdown

Police are harassing trans people during Panama’s gender-based lockdown

  • Police touched one woman’s breasts and mocked her for being a man.
Pride in Panama City

Police are harassing transgender people as Panama continues a coronavirus lockdown which only allows men and women to leave their homes on different days.

Under the Ministry of Health rules, women may do essential shopping on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Men can go out for the same reasons on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. And nobody may leave home on Sundays.

Moreover, the time of day you are allowed out depends on the last digit of your national identification card or passport.

Panama officials say it is the ‘simplest’ way to reduce the number of people on the streets.

However, Human Rights Watch (HRW) says it has interviewed 12 transgender people who have fallen foul of the rules, just for being themselves.

‘We need urgent help’

At the start of April, GSN shared the story of trans woman Bárbara Delgado. Police arrested her for being out on the ‘wrong’ day, even though she was out on a women’s day.

While they released other lockdown offenders, they wouldn’t let her go. Instead they took her before a justice of the peace who gave her a US$50 fine. 

Now further similar cases have come to light.

Human Rights Watch documented a case where a trans woman, Mónica, went out on 9 April, a day designated for men.

Police stopped her when she tried to enter a supermarket. They took her to Casa de Justicia Comunitaria de Paz Pedregal, a nearby police station.

There, officers inappropriately touched her breasts and mocked her about being a man during a body search. They also threatened to put her in a cell with 200 men.

Mónica also paid a US$50 fine to be released.

She later said: ‘The [Covid-19] measures have empowered police to discriminate and we, transgender people, need urgent help.’

Together the two cases show that trans people face harassment, whichever day they leave the house.

‘Humiliated for being themselves’

Now HRW says Panama’s President Laurentino Cortizo Cohen should instruct officials and police to protect trans people.

José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. He said:

‘Transgender people in Panama are being humiliated and accused of breaking the law under the quarantine policy simply for being themselves.

‘The Panamanian government should ensure that quarantine measures are implemented in a way that respects transgender people’s dignity.’

Panama’s out-dated legal transition laws are also part of the problem.

The National Civil Registry Agency insists transgender people undergo sex reassignment surgery before they can update their legal gender on official documents.

Instead HRW says Panama should tell all state agents and private companies to respect people’s gender identity and expression. And it wants a complaints procedure and punishment for those who discriminate.