Asia Human Rights

A step back for transgender rights in Malaysia with court ruling

Supporters of transgender rights group Justice for Sisters are pictured at the Palace of Justice in Putrajaya, Malasya. (fadzaishak/Demotix)
Supporters of transgender rights group Justice for Sisters are pictured at the Palace of Justice in Putrajaya, Malasya. (fadzaishak/Demotix)
Written by P. Kim Bui

Malaysia’s federal court overturned a 2014 ruling on Oct. 8, effectively putting an anti-transgender law back into place in the country.

Section 66, the law enacted in 1992, made it an offense for a Muslim male to dress as a female or pose as a woman.

Muhammad Juzaili Mohd Khamis, Shukor Jani and Wan Fairol Wan Ismail were arrested several times in violation of the law. They took their fight to court, claiming the law violated their constitutional right to freedom of expression. While their initial case lost in 2012, their appeal was granted in 2014.

“As long as section 66 is in force, the appellants will continue to live in uncertainty, misery, and indignity,” Judge Dato’ Mohd Hishamudin Yunus wrote in 2014.

The recent loss was over a technicality: The Court of Appeal said they had no jurisdiction rule on the matter and that the three appellants had used incorrect legal procedures, reported Astro Awani.

Transgender activists had gathered at the courthouse to hear the ruling and one group, Justice for Sisters, said they were disappointed with the result.

ASEAN SOGIE Caucus, which focuses on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression in Southeast Asia, said they were concerned about the implications the action might have:

We are concerned that the Federal Court’s decision in essence forces the denial of the existence of transgender persons in [Malaysian state] Negeri Sembilan. Such pushes them further into the margins making them more vulnerable to arrests, detention and extortion.

Activists have been concerned about the safety of the LGBT community in Malaysia. In September, Nisha Ayub – who is involved with Justice for Sisters and works at SEED Foundation, a Malaysian group that promotes LGBTI rights – was attacked by two men and hit with an iron rod.

Sevan Doraisamy, executive director of human rights group Suara Rakyat Malaysia, said the act was “a reminder of the dangers and harassment LGBT activists and communities face in Malaysia.”


A good overview of the history of the case was put together by comic artist Kazimir Lee. You can see the whole comic on Slate:

About the author

P. Kim Bui

P. Kim Bui is the deputy managing editor for She’s also an adjunct instructor at the University of Southern California and co-founder of #wjchat, a weekly Twitter chat for web journalists.

Her experience in Web journalism includes news organizations such as Digital First Media’s Thunderdome, public media outlet KPCC, the Kansas City Star, APM’s Marketplace and the San Luis Obispo Tribune. She is on the board of directors of the Online News Association, and co-organizes the group’s L.A. contingent. She also is the program chair of V3, a digital media conference in Los Angeles, put on by the Asian American Journalists Association.

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