HRW urges Kuwait to overturn conviction of transgender woman

Maha al-Mutairi was sentenced to two years in prison for “imitating the opposite sex” online.

Human Rights Watch called on Kuwait to overturn the conviction of a transgender Kuwaiti woman sentenced this month to two years in prison for “imitating the opposite sex” online and to change a law allowing such prosecutions.

On October 3, a court in the Arab Gulf state also fined Maha al-Mutairi 1,000 dinars ($ 3,320), claiming she was “abusing telephone communications” with her online publications, reported the rights group said Thursday.

Mutairi, 40, who has been detained multiple times for her transgender identity, told HRW she went into hiding after the conviction but was arrested at a hotel and is currently being held in a men’s prison in solitary confinement for transgender inmates.

A Kuwaiti government spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Al-Mutairi told HRW that this was the sixth time she had been arrested because of her transgender identity and that prior to her current arrest, she was not allowed to travel outside the country due to cases brought against it.

“The story of Al-Mutairi is one of many horrific tales of transgender Kuwaitis whose only crime is speaking out publicly,” said Rasha Younes, LGBTQ rights researcher at HRW.

“Kuwait should immediately release al-Mutairi, investigate his allegations of sexual violence in detention, and end the criminalization and harassment of transgender people. “

Al-Mutairi’s lawyer, Ibtissam al-Enezi, told HRW that the court used social media videos posted by al-Mutairi as evidence of the conviction on the grounds that she was wearing make-up, speaking of her transgender identity, allegedly making “sexual advances” and criticizing the government.

She was allowed to call her lawyer and did not report abuse this time around, the rights group said, citing Enezi.

Last year, al-Mutairi posted a video on social media accusing authorities of sexually assaulting and beating her while in a male prison in 2019 for “imitating the opposite sex”.

She was arrested and released without charge in June 2020 amid a wave of international solidarity online as details of her case circulated among activists.

In 2007, Kuwait amended Article 198 of the Criminal Code, which deals with indecent acts in public places, to also criminalize “imitation of the opposite sex in any way”, punishable by one year of imprisonment and / or a fine of 1,000 dinars.

Oman, a neighbor of the Gulf, amended its penal code in 2018 to punish a man who “appears publicly in the image of women wearing or dressed” with a prison sentence of one month to one year, with a fine.

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