Nur Sajat, a trans social media personality and businesswoman who fled Malaysia, was allegedly sexually assaulted by religious officers.
The cosmetics entrepreneur fled the country in January after she was charged with breaking Sharia law by wearing a dress at a religious event in 2018. She faces up to three years in prison, which supposedly brought “contempt” to Islam.
The Washington Post reported Sajat was arrested on 8 September by Thai police for entering the country illegally, and a police official said the deportation process was underway.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, told the South China Morning Post that Sajat had been granted asylum but declined to specify the country. But Sajat announced on Monday (18 October) that she fled to Australia and was now safe from the threat of imprisonment.
She opened up about her harrowing journey in an interview with the New York Times. Sajat alleged she received a summons from the religious department of the state of Selangor, where her business is based, in January.
When she was inside the department, she claimed at least three men kicked her, pinned her down and groped her breasts. It was the same day she was arrested and officially charged in a Sharia court in Malaysia, she said.
Sajar explained that her mother, who witnessed the assault, confronted one officer about the incident. But the officer alleged it was a non-issue as he perceived Sajat as a man.
The New York Times said this account of the assault was corroborated by an activist who spoke to Sajat’s mother.
“They think it is justified to touch my private parts and my breasts because they perceive me as a male person,” Sajat said. “They didn’t treat me with any compassion or humanity.”
She made a police complaint after the incident. Local authorities in Malaysia said that a religious department enforcement officer was called in to give a statement. But no further action has been taken and the department refused to comment to the New York Times.
Sajat said she felt “protected to be my true self” and “to be free” the moment she received refuge in Australia.
“I felt trapped in my own country, where I was born, because of the laws there that criminalise me and consider me a man,” she explained.
She added that she felt like she’d been “scapegoated” to “distract from larger issues” in Malaysia, saying her case was “sensationalised because of my social media presence”.
“I was trapped and cornered in Malaysia because of the Sharia system,” she said. “My very being, my existence, was being questioned.”
She continued: “But I am very firm in my identity as a woman. This is who I am.”
Queer Malaysians routinely face discrimination under the country’s strict Islamic laws which penalise any form of “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” with a penalty of up to 20 years imprisonment and whipping.
Propose changes to the penal code could make this harsher and punish anyone who is deemed to “promote” LGBT+ lifestyles on social media as well as those who “insult” Islam.