A Malaysian court on Thursday dismissed an attempt by a group of transsexuals to challenge a law that bars Muslim men from wearing women's clothes.

Lawyers say it is the first known effort to overturn an Islamic Shariah law that prescribes jail terms of varying lengths or fines for convicted cross-dressers.

The secular High Court in Malaysia's southern Seremban town rejected a bid by four Muslim transsexuals who were born male to declare the Shariah law unconstitutional.

The law is enforced in Shariah religious courts against Muslims, who comprise nearly two-thirds of Malaysia's 29 million people.

The transsexuals had argued that Malaysia's constitution is supposed to uphold freedom of expression and forbid discrimination based on gender.

However, the High Court ruled that Muslim transsexuals cannot be exempted from Shariah legal provisions.

The four, who are in their 20s and work as bridal makeup assistants, were "disappointed and distraught" following the verdict, said their lawyer, Aston Paiva.

They were considering whether to appeal the ruling, Paiva said.

All four have previously been arrested by Islamic authorities, and in some cases fined, for wearing women's clothes.

They have undergone hormone therapy to help them present themselves publicly as women, but their official documents refer to them as male, their lawyer said.

Malaysian transsexuals say they're often harassed by religious police and have trouble securing employment.