Rights group urges Kuwait to overturn transgender woman's conviction

DUBAI, Oct 14 (Reuters) - Human Rights Watch on Thursday called on Kuwait to overturn a conviction against a transgender Kuwaiti woman sentenced this month to two years in prison for "imitating the opposite sex" online and to amend a law that allows such prosecutions.

A court in the Gulf Arab state on Oct. 3 also fined Maha al-Mutairi, 40, 1,000 dinars ($3,320), saying the she was "misusing phone communication" with her online posts, the rights group said.

Mutairi, who has been detained several times for her transgender identity, told Human Rights Watch that she went into hiding after the conviction but was arrested at a hotel and is now being held in a men's prison in a solitary cell designated for transgender detainees.

A spokesperson for Kuwait's government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

"Mutairi's story is one of many horrific accounts by transgender Kuwaitis whose only crime is expressing themselves publicly," said Rasha Younes, LGBT rights researcher at Human Rights Watch.

"Kuwait should immediately release Mutairi, investigate her allegations of sexual violence in detention, and end its criminalisation and harassment of transgender people."

Mutairi's lawyer, Ibtissam al-Enezi, told Human Rights Watch that the court used social media videos posted by Mutairi as evidence for the conviction on grounds that she was wearing makeup, speaking about her transgender identity, allegedly making "sexual advances" and criticizing the government.

She was allowed to call her lawyer and had not reported mistreatment this time, the rights group said, citing Enezi.

Last year, Mutairi posted a video on social media accusing authorities of sexually assaulting and beating her while she was in a male prison in 2019 for imitating the opposite sex.

She was detained and released without charge in June 2020 amid a wave of international solidarity online as details of her case circulated among activists.

Kuwait in 2007 amended article 198 of the penal code, which deals with indecent acts in public places, to also criminalise "imitating the opposite sex in any way", punishable by up to one year imprisonment and/or a fine of 1,000 dinars.

Gulf neighbour Oman in 2018 amended its penal code to punish a man who "publicly appears in the likeness of women in his dress or guise" with imprisonment of between one month and a year, along with a fine.

Reporting by Lisa Barrington; Editing by Nick Macfie

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