PAKISTAN: Transgender activists continue to face police abuse and discrimination

Discrimination and abuse from police and government officials continues to be faced by transgender rights defenders. Furthermore, many activists have been abducted, beaten, and raped for raising their voice against the atrocities meted out to them. Pakistani society by and large ostracises persons of transgender. Being social outcastes and shunned by their families, many transgender persons end up becoming sex commodities or street dancers. Sources of sustenance are limited for individuals who do not identify with either male or female genders.

On February 17, police officials of the Elite police force attacked the TransAction Alliance’s office and attempted to kidnap an activist named Chocolate, who is also a board member of the TransAction Alliance). The police initially refused to lodge an FIR, and after the report was taken, instead of taking action, the police started to harass Chocolate and threatened to kill if she continues to follow the case.

Blue Veins, a rights based organisation working for the empowerment of transgenders, has reported and documented several cases of violence against transgender rights defenders particularly from the Khyber Pakhtun Khwa province (KPK). The province population mainly follows conservative tribal values, and thus the transgender community often finds it difficult to survive, let alone stand up for their rights. In 2016, 17 cases of violence, threat, and harassment have been reported, but as many cases of abuse go unreported, this number is not a true reflection of the torture suffered by the community. Police often act as silent spectators in such abuse, if not as the perpetrators. The transvestites complain of suffering more torture at the hands of law enforcement agencies, than any other group.

In a case of police excess against the community on 20 March 2016, a peaceful social gathering of transgenders organized by TransAction Alliance was attacked in Haripur by KPK Police. The transgender were brutally beaten and the gathering was stopped. More than 20 transgenders including their activists were injured and their valuables were snatched by the police. The incident was reported to higher authorities, but no action has been taken.

TransAction Alliance, being the only advocacy group of the transgender community, has been at the receiving end of threats by conservative political parties, law enforcement authorities and other government employees. On February 9, Riaz alias Farzana, President of the Transgender Alliance, received a call showing “Private Number”. The caller threatened Farzana to stop her advocacy efforts for the rights of transgender and stick to the entertainment business, and if she does not listen, she will invite lots of problems which she and her friends will not be able to handle. The caller also told her not to play in the hands of NGOs and stay away from causing bad name of the country.

Transvestites are also prone to sexual violence. On 4 February 2015 press secretary of the Alliance, Komal, was attacked by around 20 people. Her hair was chopped off and the attackers attempted to rape and film her, but were not able to do so because of her resistance. An FIR of the incident was lodged only after interference from human rights directorate and civil society pressure. One of the attackers has been arrested and is in jail. The culprit is a government official and works at the KPK Governor Secretariat.

Religious groups are also not far behind in persecuting the transgender community. On 24 Feburary 2016, the house of Arzu, a transgender rights defender, was attacked by a mob of more than 30 people belonging to Jamate Islami (Radical Political Party) led by a local religious leader from an influential party in Peshawar city. Despite footage of the attack shown to the police, they refused to take action against the attackers.

The transgender community in Pakistan is even denied their right to freedom of thought and expression over the internet and social sites like Facebook. On 18 April 2016, the District Coordinator of TransAction Alliance, Sana, alias Raees, was unlawfully detained by the Station House Officer of Norang police station after she posted pictures of police torture on social media. Sana was detained on the highway after she updated her location on Facebook, stating that she is going to Peshawar for a press conference. She was tortured and threatened by the police that they will shoot her if she does not stop sharing her story with the media. Since then, Sana is unable to go back to Norang area.

There are an estimated 500,000 ‘third-gender’ citizens in Pakistan, yet these transgender literally have no rights in the country. It wasn’t until 2012, during the tenure of Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammud Chaudary, that the trans community got the right to vote and inheritance. Though the landmark judgement opened doors for the community, sadly the judicial order was reduced to paper and never implemented at the state level. Similarly, although the government announced a 2% quota in the state departments for transgender employment, the state has yet to fulfil its promise.

The state must play its role in protecting the beleaguered community, as required by article 25 of the Constitution of Pakistan, which envisages equality of all citizens regardless of their gender. The pronouncement and directives of the Supreme Court to protect and safeguard the life and interest of transvestites must be ensured to integrate them as productive members of the society.