A view of Malaysia's landmark Putra Mosque

A court in the southern Malaysian town of Seremban has rejected demands from a group of Muslim transsexuals to overturn the sharia law preventing them from wearing women's clothes.

The four transsexuals, who had previously been arrested and fined for wearing skirts and handbags, had hoped that the Islamic law prohibiting cross-dressing would be declared unconstitutional.

The campaigners, all of whom are in their 20s and work as bridal makeup assistants, are said to be "disappointed and distraught" by the verdict, according to their lawyer.

Malaysia, a moderate Islamic country which was ruled by Britain until 1957, is home to around 15 million Muslims out of a total population of 27 million.

Freedom of expression and discrimination are upheld by its colonial-era constitution, but according to the dual justice system in force in the country, Muslim citizens are also subject to the Islamic sharia law.

The secular High Court in the state of Negri Sembilan ruled that, because they are Muslim, the four transsexuals are not subject to the same freedoms granted to transsexuals from other religions, which do not ban men from wearing women's clothing.

The protestors are deciding whether to appeal the ruling. Their legal challenge was the first attempt to challenge this particular aspect of sharia law in Malaysian history.

Punishment for cross-dressing in Malaysia varies from state to state. In Negri Sembilan, a man found dressed as a woman can face up to six months' imprisonment and a fine.

Apart from being banned from cross-dressing, members of the Malaysia's LGBT community face also other ordeals. According to the country's criminal code, which applies to the whole population, sodomy and oral sex are still considered criminal acts and offenders can face up to 20 year jails in prison.

It is also reported that Malaysian transsexuals are often harassed by religious police and to have difficulties in finding a job.

Aside from these apparent dangers, it is esteemed there are about 30,000 transsexuals in Malaysia, half of whom are Muslims.