Transgender equality activists scored a major win in Kuwait as the country’s constitutional court struck down a law that has long been used to criminalize transgender identity.
Two laws in the Muslim-majority country are used to prosecute people for being LGBTQ. Article 193 bans sex between two men and Article 198 bans public immorality. In 2008, Article 198 was expanded to make it clear that it included “imitating the appearance of a member of the opposite sex.”
Related: Transgender man in Kuwait arrested for ‘imitating opposite sex’
It’s the latter that the court struck down, saying that it’s vague and “inconsistent with the constitution’s keenness to ensure and preserve personal freedom.”
Amnesty International welcomed the decision as a “major breakthrough.”
“Article 198 was deeply discriminatory, overly vague, and never should have been accepted into law in the first place,” Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa division deputy director Lynn Maalouf said.
She said that the ruling means that authorities in Kuwait “must also immediately halt arbitrary arrests of transgender people and drop all charges and convictions brought against them.”
In 2016, police forcibly shaved the heads of three transgender women who were arrested for violating Article 198 in a shopping mall. The police said that a group of young men was harassing the women, but instead of helping them they asked the women for their identification and arrested them for wearing women’s clothes.
They were taken to a police station where their heads were shaved. They were referred for prosecution.
In 2012, an 18-year-old transgender man was arrested after he was attacked by a group of young men for wearing a traditional Kuwaiti male dishdasha and ghutra.
The alleged assailants reportedly thought that the victim was a trans woman and started to harass him, before attacking him for being a trans man. Two shops were damaged in the attack and the victim was arrested for violating Article 198.
Homosexuality is still illegal in the country and carries a punishment of up to seven years in prison. In the last decade, the Kuwaiti government has been under pressure to crack down on LGBTQ people.