Kuwait overturns cruel anti-trans law in ‘major breakthrough’

Kuwait overturns cruel anti-trans law in ‘major breakthrough’, but the fight in the country is not over yet.

A court of justice in Kuwait has struck down a law that criminalised trans people by forbidding the ‘imitation of the opposite sex’.

The Gulf state’s constitutional court on Wednesday (16th of February 2022) overturned a reviled law, known as Article 198 of Kuwait’s penal code, which forbids the ‘imitation of the opposite sex’. Anyone found guilty of breaking the now-defunct law faced imprisonment and/or a hefty fine.

Human rights and LGBT+ rights activists across the world have long criticised the law as a means for authorities to prosecute trans people in Kuwait. And according to Reuters, the court said that the law was unconstitutional because it didn’t provide ‘objective standards’ that identified the offence. It also added that the general phrasing of Article 198 was also “inconsistent with the constitution’s keenness to ensure and preserve personal freedom”.

Lynn Maalouf, the Middle East and North Africa deputy director for Amnesty International, welcomed the court’s ruling as a “major breakthrough” for trans rights in the region. “Article 198 was deeply discriminatory, overly vague and never should have been accepted into law in the first place,” Maalouf said. “The Kuwaiti authorities must now ensure that Article 198 is repealed in its entirety.”

Maalouf also called on authorities to “immediately halt arbitrary arrests” of trans people and “drop all charges and convictions brought against them under this transphobic law”.

Trans FlagIn October, Maha al-Mutairi, a 40-year-old trans woman, was sentenced to two years in prison and a fine of 1,000 Kuwaiti dinars for “imitating the opposite sex”, among other charges. Ibtissam al-Enezi, al-Mutairi’s lawyer, told Human Rights Watch at the time that the court had used al-Mutairi’s social media videos as evidence to convict her. In the videos, she could be seen wearing makeup, speaking about her trans identity, allegedly making “sexual advances”, and criticising the Kuwaiti government. Al-Mutairi told Human Rights Watch that it was the sixth time she had been arrested due to her trans identity. She is currently held in Kuwait’s Central Prison for men.

Shaikha Salmeen – a lawyer and activist who worked on al-Mutairi’s case and the campaign against Article 198 – said Wednesday’s ruling was a step “in the right direction’’, the New York Times reported. “It was unconstitutional, and no one can doubt that,” she said. Salmeen also anticipated there would be backlash from conservatives against the court’s ruling, saying their “fight back is going to be vicious for sure”.

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Stephanie Jones is an freelance journalist, author and academic. Her work has featured in The Sunday Times, Stylist Magazine and is a commentator on Welsh radio.