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Anti-trans raid in Malaysia: ‘a worrying disregard for human rights’

Anti-trans raid in Malaysia: ‘a worrying disregard for human rights’

‘End dehumanisation of transgender people’, trans advocacy group pleads

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Malaysian religious police officer interviews trans suspect after raid.
Malaysian religious police officer interviews trans suspect after anti-trans raid.

Religious police in Malaysia arrested five trans women in an anti-trans raid on a massage parlor in the city of Ipoh in northwestern Malaysia in early December.  They were charged with cross-dressing and acting as women for immoral purposes.

In response, the trans advocacy group Justice for Sisters pleaded for an end to anti-trans raids. The issued the following public statement: “End Dehumanisation of Transgender People”:

Justice for Sisters (JFS) criticises the recent arrest of five trans women in Ipoh under the state syariah law in an “op cegah pondan”. [Roughly, “Operation Stop Transgenders”, except that the final word is a slur.]

The incident is just the latest in a growing trend of raids targeting LGBTIQ people in Malaysia. The raid further reflects a worrying disregard for basic human rights and dignity, in addition to the impunity with which the state Islamic department continues to conduct their activities.

“The name of the operation is extremely disrespectful, dehumanising, and reflects the state’s profound prejudice and misunderstanding of gender identity. There is an abundance of scientific evidence that confirms the normalcy of trans people – they do not need to be changed, prevented, or criminalised. When the state not only targets but tries to ‘curb’ a group based on their identity that is a serious cause for concern,” says JFS co-founder thilaga sulathireh.

The state Islamic department’s actions are supposed to uphold the Islamic principles of peace, dignity, respect, well-being, and inclusivity. Instead, all the public sees is constant harassment and abuse, which reflect poorly on the practice of the religion in the country.

Further, the operation, and the attitude of Islamic department, underscore the stark contrast in how gender identities are treated across geographical boundaries. While Thailand is making notable progress toward inclusive policies, trans women in Malaysia, regardless of their citizenship, continue to be unjustly targeted and systematically marginalised by state laws.

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The media’s role in perpetuating prejudice

We are alarmed at how the media failed to report this issue critically. The uncritical, almost verbatim reporting served to only amplify the state’s prejudice, reinforcing harmful stereotypes and encouraging violence against transgender people, instead of challenging the position. As of 8 December, a total of 10 publications (eight Bahasa Malaysia, two English) published or republished the news, in addition to two social media platforms.

“We urge the media to resist normalising the use of derogatory language against trans women, which only serves to further marginalise and demean them,” says thilaga.

We call for an end to raids and activities that criminalise and dehumanise transgender people, as both represent gross violations of human rights and dignity. We maintain that respect and understanding of gender identity is essential for a truly inclusive and fair society, and urge the media to take decisive responsibility in dismantling discriminatory language and practices.

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