ISLAMABAD: The federal government on Thursday formally addressed the controversy brewing over the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2018, defending the law as being in accordance with the demands of the transgender community.

Separately, a cabinet subcommittee decided to probe allegations of sexual misconduct against former National Account­ability Bureau chief Javed Iqbal.

Addressing a joint press conference with PPP’s Qamar Zaman Kaira, who serves as adviser to the prime minister on Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan, on the Transgender Rights Act, Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar dismissed the allegations that the law had opened the doors for homosexuality and that it was against Islamic injunctions, describing these objections as “baseless”.

The law was enacted by parliament in 2018 to provide legal recognition to transgender persons. It enshrines transgender persons’ equal rights to education, basic health facilities, the right to affirm their transgender identity on ID cards and passports, as well as the right to vote in and contest elections.

Cabinet panel to probe sexual misconduct allegations against ex-chief of NAB

Some religious parties, however, have since been of the opinion that the law gives legal protection to homosexuality. Senator Mushtaq Ahmad Khan of the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) recently became a party to a case assailing the law in the Federal Shariat Court (FSC), while Maulana Fazlur Rahman of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (Fazl), a key ally of the federal government, has termed the law as “against the teachings of Islam”.

Mr Tarar recalled during the press conference that the bill had been passed by the Senate and the National Assembly in 2018 in the presence of both religious and political leaders. He noted that all political parties, including the PML-N, PPP, PTI, and others, had accorded their approval to it in 2018.

The law minister noted that the JI’s Senator Mushtaq had proposed amendments to the law to prevent its misuse. Mr Tarar conceded that there might be some loopholes in the law and said there could be a possibility that certain sections of it could be misused.

However, the law minister stressed that transgender persons are also human beings, and the legislation was meant to protect their rights, including inheritance, education, employment, health, and purchase of a property. He further noted that abusing transgender persons by forcing them to beg had been made punishable under the law.

Mr Tarar said the opinion of the chairman of the Council for Islamic Ideology had been sought with regard to the Transgender Rights Act.

The matter remained under discussion in parliament, he said. The government is also awaiting the outcome of two petitions filed in the FSC and will welcome and implement the court’s directions.

He slammed critics for twisting the matter and claiming that the law was encouraging homosexuality.

He then outlined the various provisions of the law, starting off with the definition of a transgender person. He contended that “nowhere in the law does it say that any person can be a transgender themselves”.

Mr Kaira echoed Mr Tarar in noting that the law was not new and had been passed in 2018.

“There is no need to create a hue and cry over it. These days, social media has become a platform for fake news, and it is being used to create polarisation in the country,” he said.

He said that the categorisation of gender in the law was “if anything, a way forward”.

He further said that he supports Senator Mushtaq’s amendments to the bill. He said one should refrain from disgracing any person in the name of criticism.

Probe against ex-NAB chief

Separately, a subcommittee of the federal cabinet headed by Law Minister Tarar decided to convene an in-camera session to probe the allegations of sexual harassment against the chairman of the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances, retired Justice Javed Iqbal.

The committee had convened its meeting to deliberate upon issues related to enforced disappearances.

The participants included Mr Tarar, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah, Minister for Science and Technology Agha Hassan Baloch, Federal Minister Shazia Atta Mari, and retired judges Fazalur Rehman and Zia Pervaiz.

Mr Iqbal appeared before the committee to apprise it of the performance of the commission.

The committee informed the chairman that families of missing persons had expressed dissatisfaction with the commission. The chairman was subsequently asked to submit a performance report for the past 10 years.

Some members of the committee inquired from Mr Iqbal about the allegations that he sexually harassed a woman who had lodged a complaint for the recovery of her loved ones. Mr Iqbal denied the allegations. However, the committee has decided to proceed with the matter in in-camera proceedings.

It may be mentioned that the issue had recently been highlighted when Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif appeared before the Islamabad High Court (IHC) during the hearing of the missing persons case.

IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah had pointed out the poor performance of the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances and the alleged objectionable conduct of its chairman, adding that the families of missing persons had divulged disturbing details about both the commission and Mr Iqbal.

Published in Dawn, September 23rd, 2022

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