Saudi Arabia urged to probe death of transgender woman

Human Rights Watch says Pakistani transgender woman died at a Riyadh police station

Saudi Arabia has been urged to investigate the death of a Pakistani transgender woman at a Riyadh police station following a raid on an event space in late February.

Human Rights Watch said in a statement that Saudi authorities should also immediately release five Pakistanis who remain in detention if they are held only on suspicion of committing morality related “offences".

On February 26, local media outlets reported that Saudi police in Riyadh had raided a rented hall that day, 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.”

Human Rights Watch 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.

Saudi Arabia’s Interior Ministry denied the torture claims in a statement to Reuters on March 6.

Human Rights Watch said it has not been able to confirm where the five additional Pakistanis are held or whether authorities have charged them.

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.

“Saudi authorities should set the tone for society by respecting peoples’ privacy rather than targeting LGBT people for arrest,” Whitson said.

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