At least 13 transsexuals have been assaulted in a city in Muslim-majority Malaysia in recent months, stirring fears that a gay-bashing gang is on the loose, a report said on Thursday.
The latest attack in Kuantan in eastern Malaysia occurred on Wednesday, when a transsexual make-up artist was set upon by six men on motorcycles and beaten with chains, steel bars and crash helmets, The Star newspaper reported.
The victim, and a companion who tried to intervene, suffered cuts and bruises, it said.
The paper quoted another friend of the victim as saying transsexuals believe the assaults were carried out by the same group of assailants, noting that the targets have not been robbed, leaving the motive for the attacks unclear.
The gay and lesbian community in socially conservative Malaysia has slowly gained a higher profile in recent years, and transsexuals live openly in cities.
But many complain they continue to live in fear of persecution, especially amid a perceived growing Islamisation of the country.
Authorities periodically raid gay-friendly bars or massage parlours, and a prominent religious body in 2008 issued a fatwa, or Islamic religious ruling, against lesbian sex.
In the first reported Kuantan attack, a victim who was slashed on the neck with a sharp object in September managed to recover the dropped identification card of one of the assailants and turn it over to police, The Star said.
"But no one was arrested," the victim, identified as Mona, was quoted as saying.
"I feel scared now whenever I go out at night."