Pakistani same-sex couple separated and sentenced to three years in jail

The case of Shumail Raj, who was born female but had two operations to remove her breasts and uterus 16 years ago, and Shahzina Tariq has made waves by raising issues of homosexuality and transsexuality that are taboo in the conservative Muslim society.

The couple, who married last year, had approached the Lahore High Court for protection against harassment by Tariq's relatives. They said they wed to protect Tariq from being sold into marriage to pay off her uncle's gambling debts.

Court-appointed doctors examined Raj and decided she was still a woman. The couple admitted they had lied about 31-year-old Raj's gender because they were in love and wanted to live together. Raj, who has a close-cropped beard, has expressed a desire to go abroad for surgery to become male.

"There are certainly laws to deal with perjury, so they deserve due punishment," said Hina Jillani, head of the Legal Aid Center of the nongovernment Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. "But what I believe is that they should have been given some more leniency.

"Since our society sees such relationships as immoral and illegal, the couple certainly has this pressure on them. That is why they lied to the court."

Presiding Judge Kahawaja Mohammed Sharif, announcing their conviction for perjury, said he was issuing a "lenient" sentence, below the seven-year maximum, because they had apologized.

The judge also fined them 10,000 Pakistani rupees (US$165; EUR120) two months salary for an average Pakistani _ and dropped a charge of committing an act of unnatural lust, which can be punished by life in prison.

Raj and Shahzina Tariq, 26, appeared shocked by the verdict.

Their eyes widened as Sharif announced their punishment, and they briefly clasped each other's arms before police led them away.

Defense attorney Zahid Husain Bokhari said the couple would appeal and hoped for an acquittal.

"They were not alerted at any stage of the proceedings that they could be penalized," Bilal said.

Raj, wearing a short-sleeved white shirt and jeans, urged President Gen. Pervez Musharraf to step in.

"We appeal to President Musharraf to intervene," Raj told reporters outside the court. "Musharraf is talking about moderation and enlightenment. We hope he will do something for us."

Asked about the prospect of three years in different jails for women, she said: "No matter, no matter. We love each other."

Raj gave Tariq, wearing a dark veil and a shawl over her head, a hug from behind before the two got into a waiting police van and were driven away to separate women's jails.

The court will resume hearings on June 22 on whether to annul the couple's marriage, which Tariq's family says contravenes Islam and Pakistani laws against same-sex unions.

Raj has said his breasts and uterus were surgically removed at age 15 after his voice changed and he began to grow facial hair. But the court doctors ruled the operations were not complete and that he was still a woman.

The judge on Monday ordered police to begin a criminal investigation of the surgeons who operated on Raj and report their findings at the June hearing.

The vast majority of Pakistan's 165 million people are Muslims, many of them with conservative values. Topics such as homosexuality and sex reassignment are largely taboo.

Dr. Ejaz Bhatti, head of the state-run Services Hospital in Lahore who led the court-appointed panel of doctors that examined Raj, said sexual reassignment surgery was illegal in Pakistan other than in cases where a person was born with a hormonal disorder.

He alleged that Raj had intentionally had male hormones injected into his body the first such case he had encountered during a 25-year medical career.

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Author`s name Angela Antonova