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Top South Korea court overturns conviction of gay servicemembers

Two men sentenced to prison over same-sex relationship

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(Photo courtesy of Republic of Korea Army public affairs)

The Supreme Court of Korea overturned a 2019 military court conviction of two service members of the Republic of Korea Army, also known as the ROK, sentenced to suspended prison terms for their same-sex relationship.

“Punishing these incidents could infringe upon the right to equality, the dignity and value as human and the right to pursue happiness as guaranteed by the Constitution,” the high court said in its ruling.

Under Korea’s civilian law homosexual activity is not illegal, but there are provisions in the country’s code of military justice that can lead to conviction and prison sentences for same-sex sexual acts.

Reuters reported the Ministry of Defense said it would thoroughly review “the intent of the Supreme Court’s ruling.” In the past, South Korean authorities have defended the military code against same-sex relationships as necessary to maintain discipline.

The two defendants were indicted in 2017 for having same-sex intercourse in 2016, while off duty and outside their base, which is punishable with prison for up to two years under the Military Criminal Act.

Korea’s civil and human rights group’s applauded the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Lim Tae-hoon, the director of the Military Human Rights Center, released a statement Thursday after the ruling taking aim at the military’s position.

“How long will we leave a backward law that judges an individual’s private life in a court of law because he is a sexual minority?

With this ruling as an opportunity, the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex sex can no longer be evaluated as an act worthy of punishment.” 

Lim told Reuters the military act is under review in the Constitutional Court after the filing of numerous petitions against it, and the center urged the court to quickly complete its review of what it called an “outdated and bad” law.

Last year, the Daejeon District Court ruled against the ROK in a case over a transgender soldier who had died by suicide prior to the ruling that Staff Sgt. Byun Hui-su was already legally recognized as trans. The decision said the ROK Army should have used standards applied to women to determine her fitness to serve.

Ruling in Byun’s favor, the court noted: “When based on standards of women, there are no mental or physical disability grounds for dismissal.” The court then ordered the ROK Army to reinstate her.

Sadly there was no celebratory acknowledgement because on March 3, 2021, she took her own life and was discovered deceased by emergency officials at her home in the city of Cheongju, south of the South Korean capital city of Seoul.

She took the Army to court with the assistance of the Center for Military Human Rights.

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Asia

Thailand marriage equality bill receives final approval

Country third jurisdiction in Asia to allow same-sex marriages

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(Public domain photo)

The Thai Senate on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a bill that will extend marriage rights to same-sex couples.

The measure passed by a 152-130 vote margin with four senators voting against it and 18 abstaining. The Thai House of Representatives in April approved the marriage equality bill, with 400 of 415 lawmakers who participated in the vote backing it.

Taiwan and Nepal are the two other Asian jurisdictions that allow same-sex couples to legally marry.

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Maldives activists say new president won’t bring LGBTQ rights to country

Island nation is a popular tourist destination

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(Photo by OLA24/Bigstock)

Maldives, a Southeast Asian country that is a popular tourist destination, on Sept. 30 elected a new president.

Doctor Mohamed Muizzu, leader of the Progressive Party of Maldives and the president-elect, secured 54 percent of the total votes. He defeated incumbent President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih of the Maldivian Democratic Party. 

Maldives does not offer any rights to the LGBTQ community. 

Consensual same-sex sexual activities are prohibited in the country under the Penal Code 2014. Same-sex couples can face up to eight years in prison and 100 lashes (for both men and women.) The penal code works under the Islamic laws that criminalize same-sex relationships in the country.

Solih in 2019 started to work on human rights concerns and LGBTQ issues in the country, but the previous government abandoned the work after Islamic extremists pressured them. Solih did nothing to prevent extremist groups from attacking the country’s democratic institutions.

“I believe for ordinary liberals it would be safer with the new government because when the Progressive Party of Maldives ruled before, they did not get personal with activists who were not connected to the opposition. They were busy fighting with each other,” said Ulfa M. Fahmee, a humanist creator and LGBTQ rights activist. “Now the ruling party wants international rights groups to see they value democratic values, so they don’t openly arrest opposition activists, instead they attacked those viewed as promoting liberal values.” 

“(The) new president is already focused on bringing economic equality unlike previous government who sent islanders to pray for rain when the poor ran out of stored rainwater in the islands making Maldivians believe they have to sacrifice LGBTQ and irreligious for God to get necessities instead of asking from government,” added Fahmee.

Fahmee was forced to flee Maldives because of safety concerns after state-sponsored news outlets accused her of blasphemy. 

She said the Maldivian Democratic Party ran a hate campaign against her while the opposition party was protesting against government officials who were caught doing a blasphemous report. 

Fahmee told the Washington Blade that Maldivian media is not allowed to post pictures until a conviction is secured, but the press published her pictures while she was still under investigation, putting her in danger of being harmed by extremists. With pain and anger in her words, Fahmee told the Blade that local police still have not returned any of her and her family’s confiscated electronics. 

Fahmee is currently living in exile.

“We don’t have an openly LGBTQ community in Maldives, but the current govt enjoyed inciting hate and violence against ordinary liberals who were seen as part of LGBTQ,” said Fahmee. “Whenever privileged elites were accused of any un-Islamic activity, (the) MDP government did hate campaigns against ordinary liberals and jailed many people while at the same time sending human rights fraud reports to international rights organizations blaming Islamists for the hate spreading. Islamists are usually after the government officials so govt tries to divert hate targeted at them by encouraging more state sponsored hate against liberals.”

LGBTQ activists have faced several challenges in the Maldives, including disappearances and death. 

Radical Islamic extremists in June 2012 killed blogger, LGBTQ activist and journalist Ismail Khilath Rasheed. Authorities did not investigate the murder.

According to a report published by The Edition, a local Maldivian media outlet, former President Mohamed Nasheed and his newly formed party will be part of the incoming government and will take oath on Nov. 17 with Muizzu.

“There is going to be no change as a consequence of Dr. Mohamed Muizzu being president,” said Shakyl Ahmed, an LGBTQ activist. “Some say that it will get worse because ‘salaf’ (a group of sheikhs) is on the new president’s side, but the new president definitely won’t make things better for us.”

Ahmed told the Blade he is not hopeful about the new government. He said that the new president doesn’t change the lives of the LGBTQ community in the country.

“Most LGBT people in Maldives are Muslim, so most of them don’t support gay rights in Maldives, even if they are gay,” said Ahmed. “However, they do engage in sexual acts with the same sex in secret. There are a few of us who support gay rights and we are trying to progressively change people’s minds.”

Kit Died, another LGBTQ activist, told the Blade the president-elect will make the situation worse for the LGBTQ community in Maldives. Died added he is known to have connections with extremist factions. 

“We have no support from the government at all — our existence itself is a crime — so all crimes against queer folk in this country get ignored,” said Kit. “Queer people get blackmailed, robbed, and sexually assaulted regularly here with no investigation or police report.” 

“The Anti-LGBTQIA+ narrative in Maldives is upheld by the constitution,” added Kit. “The Maldives constitution is one of the few places in the world that mandates all its citizens to be Sunni Muslims. This creates a paradox for citizens who were born into the religion and want to leave or happen to be queer. There’s no space for queerness in the Maldives’ specific variety of Islam, which is stricter than most in practice thanks to the tiny population that is concentrated in very small cities.”

Ankush Kumar is a reporter who has covered many stories for Washington and Los Angeles Blades from Iran, India and Singapore. He recently reported for the Daily Beast. He can be reached at [email protected]. He is on Twitter at @mohitkopinion. 

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Pakistan resumes issuing ID cards to transgender people

Federal Shariat Court in June ruled against trans rights law

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Kami Sid (Courtesy photo)

Pakistani authorities have resumed the registration of transgender people and issuing identity cards to them after the Supreme Court’s Sharia Appellate Bench on Sept. 25 ruled on the issue.

An Islamic court on June 13 ordered all data acquisition units to halt the registration of trans people and to issue identity cards only to males or females. 

The Supreme Court in 2009 extended civil rights to the trans community. Pakistani MPs in 2018 passed a historic law, the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, that guaranteed all the rights available for all citizens to trans people, and prohibited any discrimination based on gender identity.

Jamiat-e-Islami, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam and Tehreek Labbaik Pakistan and several other Pakistani religious political parties in 2022 raised objections to the law, stating it was un-Islamic. 

The Federal Shariat Court in May struck down three sections of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act and said Islamic teachings do not allow anyone to change their gender at their will. The court also said gender assigned at birth shall remain intact. 

The Islamic court’s June 13 verdict prohibited any new registration for an identity card with an X gender marker or update an older one. The National Database and Registration Authority after the ruling issued that halted the registration of trans people. Individuals in Pakistan need ID cards to open bank accounts, seek legal aid, report a crime to the police, ask for medical help and receive a passport. 

NADRA is an independent agency that regulates the government database and registration of sensitive information of citizens. The Federal Shariat Court is a constitutional Islamic court that scrutinizes and determines if laws made in Parliament comply with Sharia laws.

Nayyab Ali, a trans rights activist in Pakistan, during a telephone interview with the Washington Blade said the court’s voting bloc is based on religious elements. She also said right-wing political parties target trans Pakistanis when they do not get publicity.

“Right-wing political parties picked up the transgender issues in Parliament, and started hate speeches on transgender laws,” said Ali. “There is also a divide in the transgender community in Pakistan. Some transgender factions also support right-wing political parties to strengthen their agenda. People inside the government came from the grassroots level of society. Society has an extreme level of phobia and stigma for the transgender population, so when they come to power, they make policies that are against the transgender community.”

Ali told the Blade that former Prime Minister Imran Khan introduced an “Islamic utopia” in Pakistan and implemented an Islamization policy in his day-to-day politics, which created more hatred against trans community and affected society at large. 

Ali on X, formerly known as Twitter, praised the decision that allowed the resumption of issuing ID cards to trans people. Documents the Blade obtained indicate she is one of those who challenged the Federal Shariat Court’s decision.

Kami Sid, a trans activist and executive director of Sub Rang Society, a Pakistan-based LGBTQ rights organization, said the community is happy and quite hopeful for a better future.

“First we as a community were very much worried about the Federal Shariat Court’s decision,” said Sid. “But after several advocacy and meetings we are quite hopeful for the fight against the Federal Shariat Court decision, and now quite relaxed as a transgender activist, I must say the community is happy.”

Kami, like Ali, also challenged the Federal Shariat Court’s decision.

Kami told the Blade conservative parties over the last few years have become more willing to promote an agenda that opposes rights for women, children and trans people. 

“Transgender rights are human rights,” said Kami. “That is why the previous government refrained from commenting on the Shariah Court ruling out of fear of the right-wing parties and because transgender people are not a top priority.”

Kami said the Pakistani government has faced several obstacles this year regarding the U.N. Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review.

Foreign Minister Jalil Abbas Jilani attended the annual UPR meeting in Geneva in January and received approximately 354 human rights-specific recommendations.

Iside Over, an online news website, reports Pakistan may not get an extension over the European Union’s Preferential Trade Arrangement over its failure to improve its human rights record, among other reasons. Kami told the Blade the Generalized System of Preference, or GSP, from the EU has put pressure on the Pakistani government to address human rights-specific issues.

Ankush Kumar is a reporter who has covered many stories for Washington and Los Angeles Blades from Iran, India and Singapore. He recently reported for the Daily Beast. He can be reached at [email protected]. He is on Twitter at @mohitkopinion. 

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