Malaysia: 16 trans women jailed after arrest at wedding

Mustafa Ali (R), Fadzil Noor (C) and Mahfuz Omar (L). UPALI ATURUGIRI/AFP/Getty Images

Sixteen transgender women have been jailed in Malaysia.

The arrests took place at a wedding ceremony in Bahau on Sunday 8 June.

The women were subsequently charged and sentenced under Malaysia’s sharia-based penal code, which “bans any male person who, in any public place, wears a woman’s attire or poses as a woman.” 

Sixteen of the women, all first-time offenders, were fined RM950 (£176) and jailed seven days each. Failure to pay the fine in seven days will increase their jail time to six months.

One of them escaped jail, as she was under the age of 18, and instead has been ordered to receive counselling.

Malaysian transgender rights group Justice for Sisters (JFS) are campaigning to raise enough money for the women to be bailed.

A spokesperson for the group said: “As none of them have ever been arrested under this law before, they panicked and pleaded guilty.

“Most of them are mak andam [wedding planners] and they were worried that this will affect their reputation and income.”

76Crimes reports Justice for Sisters said in a statement: “We managed to get a syariah lawyer to reduce the sentence. We have been asked by the lawyer to prepare RM 1,500 [US $468] for each person.

“Apparently, it is a common practice for the court to ask for more money from the detainees who appeal their sentences. In order for the girls to escape the prison sentence, they may have to pay RM 1,500 each.

“As much as possible, we do not want the girls to be imprisoned. As their identification card says male, they will be sentenced to a male prison, and treated as a male person – their heads will be shaved, no hormone treatment and high risk of violence.

“Unfortunately, Justice for Sisters does not have the funds to financially support them. The reality is we need to prepare RM 24,000 [US $7484] for all of them in a few hours.”

In May, Malaysia’s former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim was sentenced to five years in jail on sodomy charges.

Mr Anwar has always maintained the charges are part of a political smear campaign.