Kuwaiti police have tortured and sexually abused transgender women using a discriminatory law, passed in 2007, which arbitrarily criminalizes “imitating the opposite sex,” Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The government of Kuwait should repeal the law, article 198 as amended in 2007, and hold police officers accountable for misconduct, according to HRW.
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 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 others, 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 HRW Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson. “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.”
Transgender women reported suffering multiple forms of abuse at the hands of the police while in detention, including being forced to strip and being paraded around the police station, being forced to dance for officers, sexual humiliation, verbal taunts and intimidation, solitary confinement and emotional and physical abuse that could amount to torture.
Redress for these violations is difficult, as few said they reported incidents of police misconduct because of threats of retribution and re-arrest.
In one case, a transgender woman told Human Rights Watch that after police arrested her and two of her friends, they took a trash can full of dirt and cigarette butts and dumped it over her friend’s head. Another friend was forced to do push-ups with a radiator on her back.
In another case, a transgender woman who was arrested with another person reported that police punched and kicked her brutally and beat her friend with a heavy stapler.
In several cases, Human Rights Watch found that police officers took advantage of the law to blackmail transgender women into sex.