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Pakistan jails couple over gay marriage allegation

By Reza Sayah, CNN
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Two arrested for alleged gay marriage
  • Pair claims they are friends, not lovers
  • Police say they have wedding dress, photos to prove wedding
  • Khusras are eunuchs, treated as outcasts
  • Pair faces up to 10 years in jail if convicted
  • Pakistan

Peshawar, Pakistan (CNN) -- Malik Muhammad Iqbal is a man. Rani was born a man but lives as a woman.

Both are locked up in a northwest Pakistani jail awaiting trial because police say they tried to get married.

In Pakistan, that's a crime.

"Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal," says the country's penal code, "shall be punished with imprisonment. "

Eighteen-year-old Rani says Iqbal, a 42-year-old fertilizer dealer, is a friend - not a lover.

"We were only celebrating my birthday," Rani said.

But prosecutors say it was a marriage that was taking place. Police smashed their way in, broke up the party, arrested 43 dancing guests, Rani and Iqbal.

Iqbal says he was just another guest at the party.

"This was not a gay marriage," he said. "These are just false allegations."

Peshawar police Chief Shoukat Ali disagrees. Officials say they have photographs and a wedding dress to prove it.

"Our investigation shows this man likes these people more than women," Ali said. "He admitted it. This is a psychological disease when men are attracted to men and not attracted to women."

In Pakistan, homosexuality is a taboo subject and gay marriage is almost unheard of.

But Pakistani human rights groups say about 400,000 men live as women. They are not breaking the law, the group says, because they are eunuchs; not gay.

In this mostly conservative Muslim country, they are known as 'khusra' - treated as outcasts, dancing and begging to eke out a living.

After decades of discrimination, Pakistan's Supreme Court recognized khusras as a minority last year - but many are still mocked in public.

Rani and Iqbal faced some of those insults at their first court hearing. Wherever they went, cameras followed and people booed.

The two, who deny tying the knot, are now tied in handcuffs. If convicted they could get face up to 10 years behind bars.