A gay rights organisation says that it is working with other groups to free a female to male transgender man and his female born wife who have been imprisoned in Pakistan.

The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) says that it has been closely monitoring the case of the couple who were hiding from family violence, turned to the court for help, and then ended up in prison.

Thirty-one year old Shumail Raj who has been a transgender man for 16 years and 26-year old Shahzina Tariq were married according to Muslim law in September 2006. In May 2007, Shahzina’s father testified in court that Shumail was not a man. The judge ordered a medical examination, which showed that Shumail had undergone gender reassignment surgery to remove his uterus and breasts.

On May 22, the Lahore High Court found the couple guilty of perjury and fined each of them 10,000 rupees and sentenced them to three years in prison. The court’s reasoning was that Shumail was a woman who lied about being a man, and the couple lied about the legality of their marriage since two women in Pakistan cannot marry. Shumail and Shahzina are now serving their sentence in two separate women’s prisons in two different cities.

They have threatened suicide.

According to IGLHRC, the troubles began when Shahzina Tariq’s family objected to her marriage to Shumail Raj. They wanted Shazina to marry someone else to settle a family gambling debt. Her father accused Shumail of kidnapping his daughter and committing fraud, and the family began harassing the couple.

Shumail and Shahzina filed a complaint with the lower court in Faisalabad, Shazina’s hometown. The court decided in their favour since they were both adults and legally married. However, the harassment did not stop but extended to the couple’s friends who were asked to pressure the couple to divorce.

In May 2007, Shahzina and Shumail sought legal help and filed a complaint with the High Court In Lahore. In response, the family made death threats. When the medical examination showed that Shumail had had gender reassignment surgery, the judge asked the couple to show cause as to why they should not be prosecuted under Section 193 of the Pakistan Penal Code for filing a false affidavit.

Terrified, the couple went into hiding and the judge issued an arrest warrant. Within a few days, Shumail and Shazina were arrested and jailed in two separate facilities, one in Lahore and the other in Faisalabad. Their request to be placed in the same cell was denied.

They faced the possibility of seven years in prison for deceiving the court about Shumail’s identity or life in prison for violating Section 377 of the Pakistan Penal Code, which criminalises same-sex relations. The couple apologised to the court, which Judge Kahawaja Mohammed Sharif took into consideration.

Instead of seven years, he gave them three.

Shumail says that he wants to go abroad to have two more surgeries. Shahzina says theirs is a love marriage and that she knew about Shumail’s identity. The couple says, “We’re not homosexuals. We want to live together. We love each other. We don’t feel safe in Pakistan.”

Grace Poore, IGLHRC’s Research and Policy Associate, Asia and Pacific Islands, says, “It’s heart rending that two people who love each other are being persecuted because their relationship doesn’t conform to social norms. The couple went to the court for protection and ended up being re-victimised.

Withholding information that Shumail was a transgender man was based on fear; it was an act of survival to avoid being put on display, shamed and hounded. It wasn’t an act of malice. The irony is that the people who used violence and death threats against the couple have not been held accountable.”

IGLHRC says that it is working with allies in Pakistan to provide support to Ms. Tariq and Mr. Raj. It is also in contact with other human rights groups on how to bolster the efforts of the two attorneys in Pakistan who are planning to file an appeal before the Pakistan Supreme Court with hopes for an acquittal.

The organisation has called for letters of support for the couple and, although the lawyers on this case are donating their services, funds are needed for other expenses such as stamp papers, court fees, and transport.

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