malaysia_court_throws_out_anti_trans_lawA Malaysian appeals court has ruled that the country’s ban on cross-dressing is unconstitutional, reports Human Rights Watch.

On Friday, a three-judge panel of the Putrajaya Court of Appeal said that a state Sharia-law ban on cross-dressing was “degrading, oppressive and inhuman” and that so long as it was in force, transgender people “will continue to live in uncertainty, misery and indignity.”

Human Rights Watch hailed the ruling as an important victory for the rights of transgender people in Malaysia.

“The court’s rejection of the ban on cross-dressing was a strong affirmation of the rights of transgender people in Malaysia,” said Boris Dittrich, the organisation’s LGBT rights advocacy director.

“By upholding the constitution over a discriminatory state law, the court is saying all Malaysians can express themselves as the people they want to be.”

The case was filed by transgender women in Malaysia who challenged section 66 of the Sharia law in Negeri Sembilan state, which prohibits “any male person who in any public place wears a woman’s attire or poses as a woman.”

The state’s Religious Department has used this law repeatedly to arrest transgender women – most recently, in a mass arrest of 16 transgender women at a wedding party on the night of June 8, 2014.

“Malaysian authorities frequently abuse transgender women at the expense of their dignity and in violation of their rights,” Dittrich said. “The court’s ruling should send the message that Religious Department and other officials can’t just do what they like to transgender women.”

The ruling has not been well received by the state or by Islamic religious leaders.

On Sunday, the National News Agency of Malaysia reported that Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin had called for a review of the court’s decision.

“It is an extraordinary decision even though it is decided by the court. I read the statements of Islamic leaders such as muftis and the association representing Muslim lawyers who were surprised by decision,” he told reporters.

He urged the Attorney General and Islamic religious authorities to appeal the ruling.

The Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom, agreed, stating that this was “necessary to safeguard Islam.”

“It is also to show the firmness of state Islamic authorities in curtailing lesbianism, gay, bisexual and transgender leanings among Muslims,” he said in a statement.

In addition to the Sharia ban on cross-dressing, gay sex is illegal in Malaysia under colonial era legislation, with penalties including 20 years in prison – with or without fines and whippings.

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