KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Malaysia is among the worst countries in the world to be a transgender person, Human Rights Watch said in a report on Thursday that detailed systematic abuses by religious authorities and police including sexual assault and extortion.
The report, based on interviews with more than 40 transgender people, blamed “increasingly vitriolic” discourse by government officials, politicians and religious leaders in the Muslim-majority country for the deterioration in rights.
Malaysia had steadily shifted towards Islamic conservatism in the past few decades, with every state introducing enactments for Muslims that criminalise “a man posing as a woman” or vice versa, the report by the US-based group said. It said Malaysia, where Islamic authorities banned sex change surgery in 1982, was among only a handful of countries including Nigeria and Kuwait that criminalise transgender people.
“Malaysia is actually one of the worst countries to be a transgender because of the laws, the state-organised arrests and the hate speech by politicians,” said Boris Dittric, advocacy director of Human Rights Watch’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) rights programme.
The report called on Prime Minister Najib Razak, who has cast himself globally as a voice of moderation, to retract a statement media said he made in 2012 that it was necessary to fight the three “-isms” of pluralism, liberalism and LGBTs.
The 73-page report included witness testimony from one transgender woman who said she had been stripped and sexually assaulted by state religious department officials in 2011. Others said they had been arrested and forced to attend “counselling” sessions where Islamic officials lecture them on “being a man”.