KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 30 — A coalition of local human rights groups have expressed concern today over a recent investigation launched into an event organiser in Kedah, allegedly for “‘encouraging vice”.
Following the raid on a private birthday where 30 trans women were singled out and arrested, the groups highlighted this dangerous trend of punishing event organisers, allies, or those who are inclusive of transgender persons.
“We are also deeply concerned by the investigation of the organiser for ‘encouraging vice’ and the instructions by the Kedah Islamic Department to end the event seemingly due to the inclusion and attendance of transgender women,” the groups said.
“This is a dangerous trend as it punishes event organisers, allies or people for being inclusive of transgender women. It further perpetuates the harmful stereotypes of trans women being deviants, sinners and criminals, leaving no room for social integration of transgender women in society.
“The state action is counter-productive to building an inclusive, safe and equal society,” they added.
They also called on Kedah Islamic enforcers to cease the investigation and all forms of prosecution of transgender women.
On October 27, the Kedah Islamic Department raided a birthday party where 30 transgender women out of 100 attendees were singled out and given notice to report back at the state religious department to be investigated under the Kedah Shariah Criminal Offences Enactment 1988.
According to the groups, the organiser, who was celebrating his birthday, was also handed a notice to report back to the department to be investigated for “encouraging vice”.
Section 7 of the enactment criminalises “transvestites”, where “men wearing female attire or acting like women in public” can be penalised by fine not more than RM1,000, jail not more than six month, or more.
Meanwhile, Section 23 of the same enactment criminalises “encouraging vice”, and offenders can be penalised by fine not more than RM500, jail not more than four months, or both.
The raid also resulted in the private event being abruptly ended due to instructions by the Islamic enforcers.
The raid was carried out with the police, and news reports suggest that some media outlets were also present at the raid.
“Following the constitutional review of Section 66 of the Negri Sembilan Shariah Criminal Offences Enactment in 2015, there has been a significant reduction of cases of arrest under the ‘posing as a man’ state enactments based on our collective monitoring.
“However, we have observed a resurgence of raids and arrests of transgender women in the last year. In most cases, the raids are a result of an alleged ‘tip-off’ or complaint, and the trans women are mostly subjected to ‘counselling’. This is a concerning trend,” they said.
The groups also reiterated that trans women are not “pretending, posing or acting” as women.
“They are women, and as such express themselves in a way that is authentic and representative of who they are and their identity,” the explained.
In addition, the groups also expressed disappointment in reports of the arrests by Malay tabloid Harian Metro and English daily New Straits Times (NST), both under the Media Prima Bhd, which they said were sensationalised.
It added that in the Harian Metro article and video report, it not only misgendered trans women multiple times, but also contained bias, disrespectful and inaccurate statements, language and title.
The activists have also questioned the presence of Harian Metro at the raid and the motive of their coverage.
“We have contacted Harian Metro to make the following changes in order to remove the prejudicial and sensational elements, and maintain a factual, ethical and non-bias reporting.
“However, no changes have been made so far, and we have not received a reply from Harian Metro,” the statement wrote.
The statement was undersigned by 14 groups which included Justice for Sisters, SEED Malaysia, Pelangi Campaign, Tenaganita, Amnesty International Malaysia, and Sisters in Islam.