KUALA LUMPUR: Four transsexuals are challenging a law that bars men from dressing or behaving as women in Muslim-majority Malaysia, saying it is unconstitutional.
The landmark case was heard Thursday at the Seremban high court, just south of Kuala Lumpur, where the four claimed the law of the state of Negeri Sembilan infringed on their rights enshrined in the federal constitution.
Homosexuality and transsexual lifestyles remain taboo and are considered a social and moral ill by many in Malaysia, where sodomy is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
Aston Paiva, lawyer for the four, told AFP Friday the constitution protects “the right to live in dignity and not be punished for what you are born as, including race and gender.”
“They have a medical condition known as Gender Identity Disorder. They are anatomically male but psychologically female and they cannot change this,” he said.
Juzaili Khamis, 24, Shukor Jani, 25, Wan Fairol Wan Ismail, 27, and Adam Shazrul Yusoff, 25, work as bridal make-up artists and identify themselves, and dress, as women.
According to Paiva, all have previously been arrested under Section 66 of the Syariah Criminal (Negeri Sembilan) Enactment, which bars Muslim men from dressing or posing as women, with Juzaili and Shukor currently facing charges in court.
If convicted, the duo face a maximum fine of RM1,000 ($320) and up to six months in jail.
The constitution states that “no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty”, bars discrimination on the grounds “of religion, race, descent, place of birth or gender” and protects freedom of expression.
Muslims, who make up over 60 per cent of Malaysia's 28 million people, are subject to both criminal laws and Islamic laws.
Malaysia made headlines last year when police said they would stop an annual gay rights festival. The organisers decided to call off the event for the safety of the participants.
Two states then said they were considering laws to jail gay Muslims and gay rights supporters while de facto law minister Nazri Aziz was reported to have said same-sex marriages “will not happen in our country. Full stop!”