CAIRO – Kuwait’s constitutional court on Wednesday overturned a law authorities used to prosecute transgender people, saying it violated Kuwait’s individual liberties. Activists hailed the decision as a watershed moment for transgender rights in the Middle East.
The law, known as Article 198, criminalized “imitation of the opposite sex”, giving the Kuwaiti authorities the freedom to prevent, arrest and prosecute those whose appearance did not match the marked gender. on their official identification card.
Transgender Kuwaitis and Kuwaiti activists say that police often detain transgender people at security checkpoints after checking their papers, sometimes just over a man with a feminine voice. During interrogations, they said, police often sexually harassed or assaulted them and then jailed them.
Wednesday’s ruling stands out as a rare advance for sexual rights in a region where gay or transgender people, if not explicitly against the law, are often seen as such. In most Arab countries, traditional views on gender norms combined with strict religious beliefs make sexual variations largely taboo.
As a small, oil-rich Persian Gulf city with a slightly more open-minded politics than its authoritarian neighbors, Kuwait is not necessarily a supporter of the region’s sexual freedoms. .
However, Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, welcomed the ruling as a “major breakthrough”. However, she called on Kuwait to ensure complete abolition of the law and an end to arbitrary detention of transgender people.
“Article 198 is deeply discriminatory, so vague, and should never have been accepted into law in the first place,” she said in a statement Wednesday.
The law was passed in May 2007, when the National Assembly of Kuwait revised the penal code to criminalize “indecent” gestures in public and impersonating the opposite sex, which carries a maximum penalty of one year. imprisonment and fines.
Thirteen years later, it sparked a controversy beyond the borders of Kuwait when a Kuwaiti transgender social media influencer posted a series of Snapchat videos accusing police officers of arbitrarily detaining her for seven years. month in 2019 under Article 198. She was held in a men’s prison and officers She claimed to have raped and beaten her.
“All this because I’m transgender?” The woman, Maha al-Mutairi, cried in one of the videos, accusing police officers of repeatedly abusing her for “imitating the opposite sex” even though she tried to bow her head to his request. them by cutting their hair short, tying their breasts and dressing in the traditional white robes and robes of men in the bay.
“God made me like this,” she said. “I wish I felt like a man deep inside. I want to pay all the money in the world to feel like a normal man. Why are you doing this to me? “
The videos led to al-Mutairi receiving a summons from the authorities. But they also encouraged some Kuwaitis to defend her, and prompted international condemnation of Article 198.
However, in October, citing Article 198 as well as the telecommunications law, a court convicted Ms. al-Mutairi two years in prison and fines. Amnesty International said she is now being held in a men’s prison.
But The case of Ms. al-Mutairias well as that of many other transgender Kuwaitis, helped incite transgender activism in the country and the constitutional court agreed in December to hear a challenge to the law.
Transgender rights are not non-existent in the Middle East. Islamic authorities in Egypt and Iran enacted legislation in the 1980s allowing transitional surgery. And although transgender people are not specifically mentioned in the Quran, some Islamic religious scholars argue that they were simply born in the wrong body.
But in reality, even transgender people who have undergone surgery have great difficulty getting their identity legally recognized. While only Oman directly prohibits transgender people from expressing their identities, the law is often interpreted in a way that allows authorities to target transgender people. For example, some other Arab countries forbid men from wearing women’s clothes into women-only areas.
Discrimination is also pervasive. Because transgender Kuwaitis have no way to change their legal gender, most have difficulty accessing health care, housing, employment or services that require identification. their people.
Many transgender women dress like men and hide their hair to avoid scrutiny, yet are still arrested for having a feminine voice or smooth skin, according to activists, transgender women and research General Human Rights Watch. Thirty-nine out of 40 transgender women interviewed by Human Rights Watch in Kuwait in 2011 reported being arrested under Article 198, some up to nine times.
Shaikha Salmeen, a lawyer and activist who has worked with Ms al-Mutairi’s case and campaigned against Article 198, said Wednesday’s ruling was a step “in the right direction”.
“It’s unconstitutional and no one can doubt it,” she said, adding that she still anticipates a backlash from conservatives. “Their fight will certainly be brutal.”
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/16/world/middleeast/kuwait-overturns-transgender-law.html Kuwait overturns law used to prosecute transgender people