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Malaysian transgender activist arrested in Thailand

Nur Sajat Kamaruzzaman faces being deported to Malaysia where she could be sentenced to years in jail

UCA News reporter, Bangkok

UCA News reporter, Bangkok

Published: September 21, 2021 05:27 AM GMT

Updated: September 21, 2021 05:37 AM GMT

Malaysian transgender activist arrested in Thailand

Nur Sajat Kamaruzzaman has been charged with violating Islamic Sharia law in Malaysia by showing up in a woman’s dress at a religious event in 2018. (Photo: YouTube)

Thai authorities have caused controversy by arresting a transgender activist from Malaysia who is wanted in Thailand’s Muslim-majority neighbor for allegedly insulting Islam.

Nur Sajat Kamaruzzaman, a 36-year-old transgender woman who is a social media personality and runs a cosmetics business in her homeland, is facing the prospect of being deported back to Malaysia where she could be sentenced to years in prison.

“Efforts are being made to bring the suspect back,” a Malaysian police officer was quoted as saying on Sept. 20.

Nur Sajat, whose birth name is Muhammad Sajjad Kamaruz Zaman, has been charged with violating Islamic Sharia law in Malaysia by showing up in a woman’s dress at a religious event in 2018.

If convicted, Nur Sajat could be sentenced to three years in prison in the conservative Muslim nation where transgender people and members of the LGBTQ community face regular discrimination and harassment by authorities.

The Muslim transgender woman, who is an outspoken advocate for transgender rights in Malaysia, failed to show up for a court hearing in February and went missing, which prompted Malaysian authorities to issue an arrest warrant for her.

Transgender people can live openly in Thailand but they cannot do that in Malaysia

Her arrest in Thailand has caused concern about her well-being among the Buddhist country’s transgender activists.

“Transgender people can live openly in Thailand but they cannot do that in Malaysia,” a Bangkok-based Muslim transgender woman from Thailand’s Muslim-majority Pattani province told UCA News on condition of anonymity.

“I fear for her safety if she is sent back to Malaysia and sentenced to prison there.” 

Malaysian transgender activists have expressed similar sentiments in the wake of Nur Sajat’s arrest.

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In an interview with AFP news agency, Thilaga Sulathireh, co-founder of Malaysian transgender activist group Justice for Sisters, decried what she called “continuous persecution against Nur Sajat [which] represents the climate of repression against LGBT persons in Malaysia.”

The activist called on Malaysian police to “immediately drop all investigations and harassment against Sajat.”

Over the years international rights groups have repeatedly called on Malaysian authorities to respect the rights of transgender people.

“The Islamic authorities should abandon their preoccupation with transpeople’s attire, an obsession that in recent years has prompted dozens if not hundreds of arrests of transwomen under state [Sharia] laws, which criminalize a male person posing as a female,” said Neela Ghoshal, associate director of Human Rights Watch’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Program.

In addition to having to endure harassment, transwomen are also faced with routine discrimination. 

We have found that certain parties uploaded statuses and graphics that insulted Islam on social media in their efforts to promote the LGBT lifestyle

According to a 2019 study by SUHAKAM, Malaysia’s human rights commission, as many as 57 percent of transwomen living in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor had experienced various forms of discrimination such as being denied employment, housing or health care because their gender expression did not match their birth gender listed on their identity cards.

Human Rights Watch has called on Malaysian authorities to offer legal protection to transgender people by allowing them to change their gender on identity cards.

However, Sharia law, whose tenets are espoused by conservative Muslims in Malaysia, frowns on transgenderism, which further limits the freedoms of the country’s transgender people.

In July, a Malaysian government task force proposed amendments to Sharia law so that social media users could be prosecuted for insulting Islam by “promoting the LGBT lifestyle.”

“We have found that certain parties uploaded statuses and graphics that insulted Islam on social media in their efforts to promote the LGBT lifestyle,” said Ahmad Marzuk Shaary, deputy minister in charge of religious affairs.

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