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Danya Hajjaji

Kuwait transgender woman imprisoned after speaking out on abuse by authorities

Maha Al-Mutairi's social media plea highlighted abuses faced by Kuwait's transgender community [Getty]

Date of publication: 6 June, 2020

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Social media users rallied around a Kuwaiti transgender woman who surrendered herself to police after she spoke out on her alleged sexual assault at the hands of authorities.
A Kuwaiti transgender woman was imprisoned after she spoke out on the alleged abuse she suffered at the hands of police officers in a men's prison, according to a social media campaign for her freedom.

In an series of Snapchat videos, Maha Al-Mutairi, a Kuwaiti transgender woman, said she was detained due to her gender identity and jailed in a men's prison, where she was sexually assaulted and raped by police officers.

"I was born a girl, you imprisoned me as a girl and I will die as a girl," she said.

She said she would have preferred being placed in solitary confinement or a mental hospital over a men's prison that is "filled with sexual assault".

Al-Mutari said she was also beaten severely by authorities to the point of needing stitches.

"All this because I'm a girl?" she said. "This is none of your business. ... God created me as a girl."

Al-Mutairi added that a transgender friend of hers who was also imprisoned over her gender identity died by suicide upon her release from jail.

"She killed herself because she's a woman who can't live in Kuwait and everyone conceals her suicide from the public," she said. "Why would you do this to us?"

At the end of the video, Al-Mutairi said she was on her way to surrender herself to authorities. She added that if she would be subjected to the same treatment in prison, she would die by self-immolation.

"I am the first transgender person in Kuwait to publicly announce she is a woman," she said. "And I am not afraid of anyone."

Social media posts, hashtags and a petition calling for Al-Mutairi's freedom circulated widely, as did criticism of Kuwait's human rights record.

"LGBT people, especially the trans community are extremely abused in Kuwait," tweeted one social media user.

"The LGBT community exists in all communities, you cannot keep oppressing us and abusing us for things we cannot control such as our identities," read another tweet. "A different gender or sexual orientation is not a threat or violent, what they're doing to us is."

"This is not an Islam issue," wrote one Twitter user. "Our society hides under the veil of Islam to mask severe human rights abuses based on prejudice, hatred, ignorance, elitism, and maintenence of the status quo."

"Maha was brave enough to publicly speak out against police brutality and for trans rights," added another. "We must be brave enough to make her voice, and all other trans voices, heard."

Read also: Egyptian actor's support for transgender son unveils a long road ahead for Arab trans rights


Social media users campaigning for Al-Mutairi's freedom also called for the abolition of Article 198 of Kuwait's Penal Code which authorities have used to persecute and abuse transgender women  according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

In 2007, Kuwait's National Assembly voted to amend Article 198 from a generic public decency law to state that anyone "imitating the opposite sex in any way" faces one year in prison, a 1,000 Kuwaiti dinar fine (US $3322), or both.

HRW said Kuwaiti police have used this "discriminatory law" to torture and sexually abuse transgender women.

As the law does not outline specific criteria, Kuwaiti police are free to arbitrarily arrest anyone whose appearance they determine to be an offence under Article 198, according to HRW.

Some transgender women told HRW they were arrested while wearing men's clothing and later forced by police to dress in women's clothes so that authorities can claim to have arrested them in that attire.

HRW found that Kuwaiti transgender women suffer "multiple forms of abuse" while in police custody, which include being forced to strip before being paraded around police stations, being forced to dance for officers, sexual humiliation, verbal taunts and intimidation, solitary confinement, and physical and emotional abuse that could amount to torture.

Few trans women have reported incidents of abuse at the hands of authorities due to threats of retribution or re-arrest.

HRW also found that police officers took advantage of Article 198 to force transgender women into having sex with them by threatening arrest if they refused.

Al-Mutairi referenced Article 198 in her plea, calling it a "reckless" law that enabled cops to attack her community.

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