With shaved heads, Negri Sembilan transgender women opt for jail

Transgender activist Nisha Ayub (centre) says all the transgender women had their heads shaved, and they unanimously decided to complete the sentence since they had already gone through such an ordeal. — Picture by Saw Siow Feng
Transgender activist Nisha Ayub (centre) says all the transgender women had their heads shaved, and they unanimously decided to complete the sentence since they had already gone through such an ordeal. — Picture by Saw Siow Feng

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KUALA LUMPUR, June 11 ― A group of transgender women opted to serve the remaining of their jail time in men’s prison instead of pleading their case in the Jempol Lower Shariah Court today.

Following their arrests at a “joget lambak” session after a wedding on Sunday, the 16 women will be freed on Friday, instead of the original seven-day jail time.

They have already served two days in Malacca’s Sg Udang prison since Monday.

Transgender rights group Justice for Sisters (JFS) claimed that the women were pressured into giving up their appeal for reduced sentences after the judge, Justice Jamil Ahmad demanded that the women  bring both their parents in order for them to be bailed.

“Today was kind of upsetting, the way the judge was giving comments, it was a bit one-sided,” JFS activist Nisha Ayub told The Malay Mail Online on the phone.

“It was a very harsh situation, because they are not yet out to their family members. This town is quite small, news can spread quickly and they didn’t want that for their parents.”

Nisha said all the women had their heads shaved, and they unanimously decided to complete the sentence since they had already gone through such an ordeal.

While the women have not complained of sexual harassment during their prison stay, they say religious officers have been rude, Nisha added.

On Sunday, the Negri Sembilan religious authorities raided a Malay wedding in Bahau, Jempol, and detained 17 transgender women for violating a Shariah law ban on cross-dressing.

The women were subsequently charged and sentenced on Monday under Section 66 of the state’s Shariah Criminal Enactment 1992 although the law is currently under constitutional review in the Court of Appeal.

Sixteen of the women, all first-time offenders, were each fined RM950 and given prison sentences of seven days.They have since paid the fine.

One of them, a minor, was sentenced to attend counselling by the Negri Sembilan Islamic Religious Affairs Department (JHEAINS) for the next one year.

When contacted, an official with the court explained that the women chose to withdraw their plea because they were unaware of legal procedures, and were had been misled into thinking that they would be subject to much longer prison terms.

“They should have lodged an appeal when they were charged, but they decided to go to prison since they did not have any lawyers counseling them,” said the official who wished to remain anonymous.

“They withdrew their appeal because there is only two days left to finish their sentences. If they were to appeal it, it would take much more of their time and money.”

The official also denied that the women were pressured into bringing their parents to bail them, pointing out that the judge only required two guarantors to stay the sentence.

Despite that, the official said that the guarantors need not be parents, but that judges have the discretion to have parents present.

Laws such as Section 66 have been allegedly used by state religious authorities to repeatedly arrest and harass transgenders solely because they don clothes deemed “feminine”.

In May, three transgender women contended in the Court of Appeal that Section 66 violates constitutional articles governing freedom of expression and gender discrimination. The case will continue on July 17.

“Transwomen” or “transgender women” are terms used to refer to those who were born male but associate themselves with the female identity,. It has nothing to do with their sexual preferences.

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