KUALA LUMPUR, June 10 ― The Negri Sembilan religious authorities raided a Malay wedding in Bahau, Jempol, on Sunday and detained 17 transgender women for violating a Shariah law ban on cross-dressing, an activist claimed today.
The women were subsequently charged and sentenced yesterday under Section 66 of the state’s Shariah Criminal Enactment 1992 although the law is currently under constitutional review in the Court of Appeal.
“The authorities arrested them and got them to the court yesterday morning. All of them were very naïve about the law, so they pleaded guilty under Section 66,” transgender activist Nisha Ayub told The Malay Mail Online today.
“We are now trying to get lawyers in order to reduce their sentences,” Nisha added.
Sixteen of the women, all first-time offenders, were fined RM950 and jailed seven days each. Failure to pay the fine in seven days will increase their jail time to six months.
One of them, a minor, was sentenced to attend counselling by the Negri Sembilan Islamic Religious Affairs Department (JHEAINS) for the next one year.
Transgender rights group Justice for Sisters (JFS) has since started a donation drive to cover the RM1,500 bail for each woman to help them avoid their jail sentence.
“They will be sentenced to a male prison, head shaved. Psychological impact is high,” said the plea by JFS on Twitter.
Nisha said all 17 women were guests at a “joget lambak” session ― a traditional Malay dance party ― after the wedding where most of them had served as mak andam, or bridal makeup artists.
“The family members who organised the event, they lodged a police report against the Negri Sembilan religious authorities for the raid, because it happened on their private property,” said Nisha.
“They were angry, because all those who were detained were known to them.”
Nisha claimed, however, that the police did not act on the report as they said the event was held in a public space instead of private, contrary to the family’s claim.
The wedding and the dance party, Nisha said, was held on the street in front of their family house.
When queried by The Malay Mail Online, JHEAINS’ operations chief Ahmad Zaki Hamzah said he was ordered to not comment on the raid.
But the Jempol Islamic Religious Office confirmed that the raid was conducted on Sunday, although it was not authorised to divulge more details.
Jempol police chief Supt Hamzah Alias could not be reached for comments at the time of writing.
Laws such as Section 66 have been allegedly used by state religious authorities to repeatedly arrest and harass transgenders solely because they don clothes deemed as “feminine”.
In May, three transgenders contended in Court of Appeal that Section 66 violates constitutional articles governing freedom of expression and gender discrimination. The case will continue on July 17.
The case also exemplifies the ongoing tussle between conservative Malaysia and its progressive side that is increasingly tolerant of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities (LGBT).
Muslim-majority Malaysia continues to reject the perceived rise in LGBT activity, which together with growing calls for greater civil liberties, they deem to be an assault against Islam.
“Transwomen” or “transgender” are terms used to refer to those who were born male but associate themselves with the female identity, and has nothing to do with sexual preferences.