DUBAI (Reuters) – Kuwait’s Constitutional Court on Wednesday overturned an article of the penal code criminalising the imitation of the opposite sex, in a move welcomed by Amnesty International as a “major breakthrough” for transgender rights in the Gulf Arab region.
The court said in a statement on its website that article 198 was unconstitutional because it did not provide “objective standards” to identify the offence, and that the general phrasing risked violating personal freedoms.
Amnesty International said the court in December had accepted a legal challenge to the article, which was amended in 2007 to criminalise “imitating the opposite sex in any way”, punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine.
“The Kuwaiti authorities must now ensure that Article 198 is repealed in its entirety,” Amnesty said in a statement, describing it as deeply discriminatory and overly vague.
It urged them to release those imprisoned under the article, including transgender Kuwaiti woman, Maha al-Mutairi, who was sentenced last October to two years in prison for imitating the opposite sex online, among other charges.
“They must also immediately halt arbitrary arrests of transgender people and drop all charges and convictions brought against them under this transphobic law,” it added.
Parliamentarian Osama Al Munawer said in a Twitter post after Wednesday’s ruling that another amendment would be sought to address “shortcomings in the legislative drafting”.
Nearby gulf state 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.