Saudi Arabia must investigate transgender woman’s death


Pakistani transgender women at a protest

Human Rights Watch has called for Saudi Arabia to investigate the death and alleged torture of a Pakistani transgender woman at a police station.

The authorities should also immediately release five Pakistanis who remain in detention on suspicion of committing morality related “offences,” said the organisation.

On February 26, local media reported that Saudi police in Riyadh had raided a rented hall, and arrested 35 Pakistanis gathered there.

A Saudi news website released photos of 10 of the Pakistanis at the hall, some dressed in women’s clothes. Pakistani transgender activists also reported that some of those arrested, including the detainee who died in detention, are transgender women, known as Khawaja Saras in Pakistan.

“Saudi Arabia’s aggressive policing of the private consensual activities of Saudis and foreigners diverts resources from actual problems such as preventing and solving crimes,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East Director at Human Rights Watch.

“Saudi Arabia should immediately end this nightmare for Pakistani families by credibly investigating why this woman died in police custody and releasing the other Pakistanis still in jail.”

Human Rights Watch said it confirmed the death by reviewing official documents after earlier media reports, including assertions by a family member that she was tortured in custody.

The son of the transgender woman who died in detention, who was known by the name Meeno, told the committee that his family received her body on March 11. “When we opened the coffin, my father’s teeth and jaw were broken,” he was quoted as saying. “Moreover, there were marks of wounds on the body.”

Saudi Arabia’s Interior Ministry denied the torture claims in a statement to Reuters on March 6, admitting only that “[o]ne 61-year-old person suffered a heart attack and died in the hospital after being treated.”

The Saudi death certificate lists the cause of death as “stopping of the heart and breathing,” and the date of death as February 27. But a briefing from Pakistani Senate’s Human Rights Committee says the transgender woman died on March 1. The Saudi-issued embalming certificate is dated March 9.

Human Rights Watch has not been able to confirm where the five additional Pakistanis are held or whether authorities have charged them.

Saudi Arabia is one of five countries in the world that has been known to execute LGBT people (although eight allow for the extreme penalty in their laws, the rest do not enforce it).

Most commonly, those found guilty of homosexuality or “cross dressing” in Saudi Arabia are punished with imprisonment, lashings and banishment. These sentences are based largely on the whim of Islamic judges and clerics hearing individual cases.

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