A court in Kuwait has sentenced a transgender woman to prison for “imitating the opposite sex” online, reports Human Rights Watch.
On 3 October 3, the court sentenced Maha al-Mutairi, 40, to two years in prison and a fine of 1,000 Kuwaiti dinars (USD 3,315) for “misusing phone communication” by “imitating the opposite sex” online under article 70 of the telecommunication law and article 198 of the penal code.
She has been arrested multiple times since 2019 for her transgender identity, but the current conviction is based on her online activities in 2021, said Human Rights Watch. The orgaisation called on the authorities to immediately release her and quash the conviction.
It noted that laws restricting the expression of gender identity violate the rights to free expression, privacy, and non-discrimination under Kuwait’s constitution and international law.
“The Kuwaiti government’s monitoring, repeated arrests, and imprisonment of Maha al-Mutairi for her trans identity is a blatant violation of her basic rights,” commented Rasha Younes, LGBT rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Kuwaiti authorities should immediately reverse her conviction and allow her to live safely as a woman.”
In a phone interview with Human Rights Watch on 8 October, Al-Mutairi said that after receiving news of her conviction she went into hiding. But the police arrested her on October 11 at a hotel. She is now being held in Kuwait Central Prison, a men’s prison, in a solitary cell designated for transgender detainees.
Ibtissam al-Enezi, al-Mutairi’s lawyer, told the organisation that the court used al-Mutairi’s social media videos as evidence to convict her on grounds that she was wearing makeup, speaking about her transgender identity, allegedly making “sexual advances,” and criticizing the Kuwaiti government. Her appeals hearing is scheduled for 31 October.
Al-Mutairi said this was the sixth time she has been arrested due to her transgender identity and that before her current arrest she had been barred from travelling outside the country because of the cases against her.
She claims that when she was detained for seven months in a male prison in 2019 for “imitating the opposite sex, ” she was raped and beaten by police officers. Al-Mutairi also alleges that during three days of detention in June 2020, police abused her, including spitting on her, verbally abusing her, and sexually assaulting her by taking turns touching her breasts.
“Al-Mutairi’s story is one of many horrific accounts by transgender Kuwaitis whose only crime is expressing themselves publicly,” Younes said. “Kuwait should immediately release al-Mutairi, investigate her allegations of sexual violence in detention, and end its criminalisation and harassment of transgender people.”