KUALA LUMPUR - Four Malaysian Muslim transsexuals on Thursday lost a landmark case challenging an Islamic law that bars them from dressing as women, activists said.
The case was the first attempt to overturn the prohibition on cross-dressing in the conservative, Muslim-majority nation where homosexuality and transsexual lifestyles remain taboo.
The High Court in Seremban, just south of the capital Kuala Lumpur, dismissed the challenge mounted by the four that Sharia, or religious law, in the state infringed on their constitutional right of non-discrimination.
Thilaga Sulathireh, an activist who helped them bring the case to court, said the judge refused to overrule the ban. Malaysia has a dual-track legal system with Sharia courts administering certain matters for Muslims.
“The (judge) said they are born male, they are still male and so the law applies to them... She said cross dressing is condemned in Islam,” she told AFP.
“It shows if you are Muslim, it’s difficult to challenge anything in this country,” she said, adding that the four were considering whether to appeal.
“They are disappointed. We are all quite shocked by the ruling.”
The case was lodged by Juzaili Khamis, 24, Shukor Jani, 25, Wan Fairol Wan Ismail, 27, and Adam Shazrul Yusoff, 25, who work as bridal make-up artists and typically dress as women.
All have previously been arrested for cross-dressing under Islamic law – administered by state authorities – which bars Muslim men from dressing or posing as women.
Juzaili and Shukor currently face charges in court and if convicted, they face up to six months in jail.
Last year, another High Court rejected a bid by a transsexual to change the name registered on her identity card after undergoing a sex-change operation to become a woman.
The 25-year-old former pharmaceutical assistant died weeks later, reportedly of heart problems.
Sodomy is punishable by 20 years in prison in Malaysia. Transsexuals are a marginalised community and many become sex workers after being shut out of other employment opportunities.