KUWAIT CITY — Kuwaiti police have been torturing and sexually abusing transgender women continually since 2007, when a discriminatory law was passed which arbitrarily criminalizes “imitating the opposite sex,” Human Rights Watch said in a report released Sunday.
The 63-page report, “‘They Hunt us Down for Fun’: Discrimination and Police Violence Against Transgender Women in Kuwait,” documents the physical, sexual, and emotional abuse and persecution that transgender women – individuals who are born male, but identify as female – have faced at the hands of police.
The report also documents the discrimination that transgender women have faced on a daily basis – including by members of the public – as a result of the law, an amendment to penal code article 198.
Based on interviews with 40 transgender women, as well as with ministry of interior officials, lawyers, doctors, and members of Kuwaiti civil society, the report found that the arbitrary, ill-defined provisions of the law has allowed for numerous abuses to take place.
“No one – regardless of his or her gender identity – deserves to be arrested on the basis of a vague, arbitrary law and then abused and tortured by police,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
“The Kuwaiti government has a duty to protect all of its residents, including groups who face popular disapproval, from brutal police behavior and the application of an unfair law,” she said.
Human Rights Watch documented that transgender individuals were being arrested even when they were wearing male clothes, only later to be forced by police to dress in women’s clothing, who claimed that they arrested them in that attire.
In some cases documented by Human Rights Watch, transgender women said police arrested them because they had a “soft voice” or “smooth skin.”
Speaking with Gay Middle East, a transgender Kuwaiti activist pleaded, “The situation in Kuwait is horrible for us, just intolerable. There are at least thirteen transgender women in jail right now.”
Attempts to interview the prisoners were denied by the Kuwaiti authorities.
Despite an official recognition of gender identity disorder (GID) by the Kuwaiti Ministry of Health as a legitimate medical condition, the law criminalizing “imitating the opposite sex” makes no exception for people who have been diagnosed with GID.