Malaysia: Back to square one for trans women

Back to square one for transgenders as Federal Court overturns landmark ruling on Shariah law

That was how the Malay Mail Online summed up today’s court reversal for trans women.

Palace of Justice in Patrajaya, Malaysia
Palace of Justice in Patrajaya, Malaysia

As the New Straits Times reported:

PUTRAJAYA: The Federal Court has reversed a Court of Appeal declaration of unconstitutionality against Negri Sembilan’s anti-cross-dressing law for men.

A five-man panel headed by Court of Appeal president Tan Sri Md Raus Sharif ruled that the legal challenge against Section 66 of the Syariah Criminal (Negri Sembilan) Enactment 1992 was void from the very beginning ….

The panel ruled that this was because the legal challenge — initially filed at the Seremban High Court — should have instead been filed straight to the Federal Court.

Despite the defeat, the Malaysian trans advocacy organization Justice for Sisters cited achievements that were made in the course of the legal challenge:

Justice for Sisters logo
Justice for Sisters logo

“Justice for Sisters is disappointed with the outcome at the Federal Court today. However, we applaud the trans community for all their efforts and courage in challenging the constitutionality of Section 66, which began in 2011.

“We are extremely proud of the trans community in increasing public awareness and visibility regarding the fundamental human rights violations faced by trans people in Malaysia. This is an achievement that can never be erased.”

In its November 2014 decision — now set aside — the Court of Appeal ruled that Section 66 of Negeri Sembilan’s sharia law prohibiting cross-dressing by Muslims was unconstitutional and void, because it violated fundamental liberties, including personal liberty, equality, freedom of movement and freedom of expression. The panel also said the law was discriminatory because it did not take into account men diagnosed with gender identity disorder.

The case was filed by three Muslim bridal make-up artists — Muhamad Juzaili Mohamad Khamis, 26, Syukor Jani, 28, and Wan Fairol Wan Ismail, 30. They must now decide whether to resume the case in a filing to the Federal Court, seeking a ruling similar to what the Court of Appeal announced in November 2014.

Malay Mail Online reported that the trans plaintiffs have not yet made that decision:

“Lawyer Aston Paiva, who represented the three transgender respondents, said that while the orders declaring Section 66 unconstitutional have been set aside, it does not mean that they will not be allowed to bring the case back to the apex court.

” ‘Today all they’ve said is all the orders have been set aside but the reasoning is still there. …

” ‘All the Federal Court has said is, instead of going and arguing at the High Court, come straight to us,’ he said.

“Paiva added that he was unsure if his clients will refile the case at the Federal Court as the decision was contingent on a consultation with his clients as well as whether or not Negeri Sembilan enforces the ban on crossdressing.”


Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at


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