HRW urges Saudi Arabia to probe Pakistani transgender woman's death

Beirut [Lebanon], Apr 13 (ANI): The Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged Saudi Arabia to investigate the death of a Pakistani transgender woman at a Riyadh police station following a raid on an event space in February.

It also said that Saudi authorities should also immediately release five Pakistanis who remain in detention if they are held only on suspicion of committing morality related "offenses".

On February 26, local media outlets reported that Saudi police in Riyadh had raided a rented hall and arrested 35 Pakistanis gathered there. A Saudi news website released photos of 10 of the Pakistanis at the hall, some dressed in women's clothes, as well as a box of rings.

Pakistani transgender activists told Human Rights Watch that some of the those gathered at the hall, including the detainee who died in detention, are transgender women, known as Khawaja Saras in Pakistan.

"Saudi Arabia's aggressive policing of the private consensual activities of Saudis and foreigners diverts resources from actual problems such as preventing and solving crimes," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

"Saudi Arabia should immediately end this nightmare for Pakistani families by credibly investigating why this woman died in police custody and releasing the other Pakistanis still in jail," Whitson added.

The HRW said it confirmed the death by reviewing official documents after earlier media reports, including assertions by a family member that she was tortured in custody.

March 28 media reports in Pakistan said that a representative of the Pakistani Foreign Affairs Ministry told a meeting of the Pakistani Senate's Human Rights Committee that Saudi authorities had arrested the 35 Pakistanis after monitoring them for two months. He confirmed that 29 of them were eventually released, while five remain in detention.

The son of the transgender woman who died in detention told the committee that his family received her body on March 11.

"When we opened the coffin, my father's teeth and jaw were broken. Moreover, there were marks of wounds on the body," he was quoted as saying.

Saudi Arabia's Interior Ministry denied the torture claims while admitting only that "[o]ne 61-year-old person suffered a heart attack and died in the hospital after being treated."

Saudi Arabia has no written laws concerning sexual orientation or gender identity, but judges use principles of uncodified Islamic law to sanction people suspected of committing sexual relations outside marriage, including adultery, extramarital and homosexual sex, or other "immoral" acts.

An HRW review of LGBT-related cases from 2013 listed in a Saudi Justice Ministry of Justice report found three cases in which authorities accused men of wearing makeup or dressing in women's clothes. The sentences ranged from 20 days in prison to a year-and-a-half, and between 20 and 300 lashes. (ANI)