Spike in attacks against transgender women in Pakistan

Pakistani transgender activists (Pic: Human Rights Watch)

Pakistani transgender activists (Pic: Human Rights Watch)

Pakistani authorities must urgently investigate the surge in violent attacks on transgender women in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, says Human Rights Watch.

On August 9, unidentified assailants in Abbottabad, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, shot Sumbal, a transgender woman, three times in the abdomen when she resisted abduction and rape.

The district hospital refused to admit her, saying they only have male and female wards, and therefore could not treat a transgender person. The district police also refused to register a case until transgender activists protested outside the hospital.

“The surge in brutal attacks on transgender women in Pakistan will only end when authorities signal that they will hold the attackers to account,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Hospital staff and police need to stop their humiliating treatment of transgender people and start protecting their rights.”

The attack on Sumbal was the latest of several recent attacks against transgender people in this province in northwestern Pakistan.

Farzana Jan, president of the Shemale Association, a transgender rights group based in the province, told Human Rights Watch that activists in the Mardan district have responded to cases in late 2015 and early 2016 in which police apprehended transgender women.

She said the police typically took them to the police station, taunted them, forcibly removed their clothing, ordered them to dance, and poured cold water on them when they refused. When they complained, they were subjected to further abuse.

Ayesha, a 22-year-old transgender woman in Peshawar, the provincial capital, said that last year a mob threatened her house and robbed her. Attackers shouted that she was “spreading vulgarity” in the area.

“When I went to the police station, the guard at the police station gate did not even let me enter,” Ayesha said. “Each time I go to the police station [to follow up on the progress of the case], the police staff mock me and make inappropriate remarks. They have refused to take any action against the perpetrators.”

On July 3, unidentified people attacked the home of Arzu, a 26-year-old transgender woman in Peshawar, and set it on fire. Arzu said the attack occurred within days after she took in a transgender friend who had escaped from an abusive male partner and his extended family, who had forced her into sex work.

Pakistani law includes provisions to protect the rights of transgender people. In 2009, Pakistan’s Supreme Court called on all provincial governments to recognise the rights of transgender people.

Human Rights Watch urged the provincial government to arrange for police to work with transgender communities and organisations and to introduce sensitivity training in accordance with the 2009 Supreme Court judgement.

“Police involvement in abuses against transgender people has generated profound mistrust between the community and provincial authorities,” Adams said. “Authorities abusing transgender women and threatening them when they seek justice should be seen as a threat to all Pakistanis – a sign of the government’s failure to ensure basic safety for all.”

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa authorities should undertake prompt, thorough, and impartial investigations into the recent attacks on transgender people in the province, the group said. They should also ensure that those responsible for these crimes are appropriately brought to justice.


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