A businesswoman who runs a successful cosmetics brand in Malaysia has revealed she had to flee the country – because she was attacked by religious police for being trans.
“I had to run away,” Nur Sajat Kamaruzzaman, 36, told the BBC from Sydney, where she is currently residing. “I was treated harshly, I was hit, pushed, handcuffed, all in front of my parents and family. I felt ashamed and sad. I gave them my cooperation, but they still did that to me.”
She added: “Maybe it was because they see me as a trans woman, so they did not care if I was held, beaten, stamped on. We trans women have feelings too. We deserve to live our lives like normal people.”
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.
Nur Sajat says she was “hit, pushed, beaten, handcuffed and stamped on” by religious police in Malaysia in front of her family after being arrested for wearing a baju kurung, the traditional long-sleeved outfit worn by Malay women, at a private religious ceremony she held in 2018.
Trans woman in Malaysia charged with ‘insulting Islam’
Nur Sajat was arrested by Thai immigration authorities in September for travelling to the country illegally. After news of her arrest in Bangkok was made public, the Malaysian authorities attempted to extradite her back to Malaysia on charges of “insulting Islam”, which carry a prison sentence of up to three years.
Instead, Nur Sajat – known as Malaysia’s most famous trans celebrity – was able to travel to Australia and apply for asylum.
Nur Sajat said that she had no choice but to flee from Malaysia, after officers from JAIS, the religious affairs department in the state of Selangor, arrested her earlier this year.
In September, Malaysia’s religious affairs minister, Idris Ahmad, told the BBC: “If [she] is willing to come to us, admits doing wrong, if [she] is willing to return to [her] true nature, there is no problem. We do not want to punish [her], we just want to educate [her].”
LGBT+ people in Malaysia routinely face discrimination under Sharia law, the strict Islamic laws that penalise “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” with whipping and up to 20 years in prison.
Proposed 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.