LAHORE, Pakistan - A couple who sought legal protection from harassment were separated and sentenced to three years in prison Monday for lying to a Pakistani judge that surgery had turned one partner into a man.
The case of Shumail Raj, who was born female but had breast- and uterus-removal operations 16 years ago, and Shahzina Tariq has raised issues of homosexuality and transsexuality largely taboo in this 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 who examined Raj ruled the earlier operations were not complete and that Raj 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 $165 - 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 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.
Raj, wearing a short-sleeved white shirt and jeans, urged President Gen. Pervez Musharraf to step in. "Musharraf is talking about moderation and enlightenment. We hope he will do something for us," Raj told reporters outside the court.
Defense attorney Zahid Husain Bokhari said the couple would appeal.
Asked about the prospect of three years in separate jails for women, Raj 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 the different 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.
The vast majority of Pakistan's 165 million people are Muslim, many of them with conservative values.
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.
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 received male hormone injections - the first such case he had encountered during a 25-year medical career.