A Malaysian court on Friday gave transgender Muslims the right to cross-dress in a landmark decision overturning an Islamic law ban that could trigger similar challenges.
Muslim-majority Malaysia represents itself as the global face of moderate Islam, but at home it has experienced a gradual Islamisation that makes minority groups worry their rights could be eroded in a clash between Islamic law and the constitution.
Several cases challenging Malaysia’s religious law in civil courts have been quashed in recent years, despite guarantees in the constitution on the freedom of expression, religion and gender equality.
On Friday, the Court of Appeal said the law against crossdressing by Muslim men contravened the constitution and did not take account of men affected by gender identity disorder.
The law and its punishments were “degrading, oppressive and inhuman”, the three judges added.
In another case that spotlights the clash between individual rights and the law, opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim is fighting a sodomy conviction and a five-year prison term that could put an end to his political ambitions.
Sodomy is illegal in Malaysia, but prosecutions are rare. Anwar, who spent several years in prison after being convicted on corruption and an earlier sodomy charge, says the case is frivolous, but the government denies political interference.
Rights group Human Rights Watch has listed Malaysia as one of the worst countries in which to be a transgender person, due to systematic abuses by religious authorities and police.