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: