Trans woman faces years in prison on cruel charges for wearing women’s clothes

Malaysia: Trans woman Nur Sajat Malaysia

Thailand is being urged not to extradite a trans activist and businesswoman to her home country of Malaysia, where she could be imprisoned for years for wearing women’s clothing.

Cosmetics entrepreneur Nur Sajat, 36, fled the country in January after she was charged with breaking Sharia law by wearing a dress at a religious event in 2018.

She now faces three years in prison for the offence, which supposedly brought “contempt” to Islam. Malaysian media also reports that she is wanted as a victim and a witness in a separate fraud case.

The court issued an arrest warrant in February after she failed to turn up for a hearing, and Sajat has been on the run since.

Malaysian police said in a statement on Monday (20 September) that Sajat was detained by Thai authorities on 8 September for having an invalid passport. She was charged with immigration offences and released on bail.

She is now understood to be seeking refuge with the UN Refugee Agency (UNCHR). Local media reported that she plans to seek refuge in Australia, but the threat of deportation hangs over her while she remains in Thailand.

Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director, said Sajat has been granted refugee status and that she shouldn’t be sent back under any circumstances.

“She needs to be sent to a country that will offer rights protections, not persecuted for being LGBT which is what will happen if she is sent to Malaysia,” he tweeted on Monday.

Thilaga Sulathireh, co-founder of Malaysian transgender activist group Justice for Sisters, told the Straits Times that the “continuous persecution against Nur Sajat represents the climate of repression against LGBT persons in Malaysia”.

Queer Malaysians routinely face discrimination under the country’s strict Islamic laws which penalise any form of anal or oral sex with up to 20 years in prison and mandatory caning. Proposed changes to the penal code could make it even oppressive in future.

“The police must immediately drop all investigations and harassment against Sajat,” Sulathireh told AFP.

Malaysian authorities showed no sign of doing so as they urged Sajat to hand herself in at a press conference on Tuesday (21 September).

“As clever as the squirrel is at jumping, eventually it will fall back to earth. The police, along with the Foreign Ministry and the Attorney General’s Chambers, are working on extraditing this person,” said Comm Datuk Seri Abd Jalil Hassan, as reported by The Star.

“However, I also advise this individual to come home ‘in a good way’ so that the cases that are being faced can proceed.”