IN July 2013, twelve gay and transgender people were arrested under Myanmar Penal Code 377 and brutally assaulted by police officials in Mandalay, Myanmar’s second largest city. They were held in custody without cause or explanation, during which time they suffered verbal and physical abuse and humiliation by local police officers. One victim was sentenced without just cause to 7 days in prison and was withheld her anti-retroviral therapy (ART) medication for HIV management, leading to a life-threatening deterioration in her health.
Section 377 of the Myanmar Penal Code fundamentally prohibits homosexuality and is punishable by up to ten years imprisonment and a fine, making LGBT individuals targets of discrimination by law enforcement agents as well as ordinary citizens. Incidents like the one in Mandalay are happening all over Myanmar due to these colonial-era relics in the existing legislature. When a state supports a law that criminalizes a section of the population and treats them as lower class citizens, society is invited to do the same thing. The continued existence of anti-sodomy laws can act as state sanctioned homophobia and transphobia, and the LGBT community thus becomes highly vulnerable to discrimination and severe human rights violations without access to remedy or legal protection.