A leading human rights charity has drawn attention to the plight of more than a dozen people arrested and jailed under new “dress code” laws in Kuwait.

Human Rights Watch has called for them to be released.

The law was approved by the National Assembly on December 10th 2007. It criminalises people who “imitate the appearance of the opposite sex.”

“The wave of arrests in the past month shows exactly why Kuwait should repeal this repressive law,” said Joe Stork, deputy director of the Middle East division at HRW.

“Kuwaiti authorities should immediately drop all charges against those arrested, and investigate charges of ill-treatment in detention.”

Security officials have arrested at least 14 people in Kuwait City since the National Assembly approved an addition (Article 199 bis) to Article 198 of the Criminal Code.

The amendment states that “any person committing an indecent act in a public place, or imitating the appearance of a member of

the opposite sex, shall be subject to imprisonment for a period not

exceeding one year or a fine.”

The only known targets of the new Kuwaiti law have been transgender people.

Kuwait allows transgender people neither to change their legal identity to match the gender in which they live, nor to adapt their physical appearance through gender reassignment surgery.

The new law, coming after months of controversy, aims at further restricting their rights and completely eliminating their public presence.

In September 2007, the newspaper Al Arabiya reported a new government campaign to “combat the growing phenomenon of gays and transsexuals” in Kuwait.