Justice for Sisters is appalled by the news of a trans woman who was fined RM 700 on June 21 for failing to produce her identification card. She apparently stated that she had just been released from jail and suffered from tuberculosis. The Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Nur Farah Adilah Noordin urged the court to impose a heavy sentence to serve as a lesson. The woman was not represented in court.
Access to justice, and the right to redress and remedy are our fundamental human rights guaranteed in several clauses of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Federal Constitution. In 2011, after hearing that ‘an estimated 80% of those tried in court for criminal offences did not have legal representation,’ the Malaysian government launched the National Legal Aid Foundation. Despite this effort, many people continue to be tried in court without representation, and as a result are imposed harsh and sometimes excessive penalties.
Because of their gender identity and the resulting systemic and social discrimination and prejudice, trans people are even more vulnerable and disproportionately face barriers when attempting to access justice. They are arrested more frequently, and hence encounter a higher incidence of trial without representation. Based on media reports and our documentation, at least 63 trans women were arrested between January and May 2016 in Penang, Kuala Lumpur, Malacca, Kedah and Pahang by police and the state religious departments for simply being themselves.
It is extremely distressing that the DPP urged the court to impose a heavy sentence simply to serve as a lesson to the trans woman for failing to produce her IC, while ignoring her reasons. The DPP’s heavy handed recommendations are problematic, and underscore the multiple forms of stigma, discrimination and prejudice that the trans woman was subjected to because of her gender identity, history of being jailed and having a criminal record, history of drug use, and so on.
In Malaysia, the system causes and reinforces the targeting and discrimination trans people. Trans people are not allowed to change their name, gender, and the last digit in their identification card number or in any other legal documents. The government’s refusal to allow trans people to change details in their identification documents to reflect trans people’s authentic identities makes trans persons vulnerable to stigma, discrimination and violence, including denial of employment opportunities, humiliating experiences when forced to use their identification card, and arbitrary arrests, among others.
The imposition of punitive measures increases the challenges and barriers for people, especially transgender persons with criminal records, to reintegrate themselves into society, as they are continuously penalised over non-issues. This has a lasting and negative impact on a person’s wellbeing. In addition, the state must understand and address the barriers that people with criminal records face in securing jobs, finding housing, reconciling relationships with friends and family among others. It is absurd and inhumane to continue penalising and profiting from people who have been failed by the system.
We are further appalled by the continuous misgendering and the use of inaccurate terms by the media, such as Bernama, to address transgender persons. Trans women are not cross dressers. Overwhelming evidence shows that trans people have existed throughout humanity, and gender identity refers to a personal sense of belonging and identification to being a girl/woman, boy/man, neither, both, a combination of gender categories and more. All identities are normal.
The news focused on her clothing and accessories, which was unnecessary and sensationalist. All people, including transgender persons have the right to self-determination to their identity, and freedom of expression. We call on the media to adopt a positive role in the promotion of human rights, and not reinforce prejudices that bar marginalised people from living their lives with dignity.