M'sian netizens & civil society group want govt to #LeaveSajatAlone after trans woman's arrest in Thailand

Some Malaysians thought the authorities were being overzealous in their efforts to hunt her down.

Faris Alfiq | September 25, 2021, 01:17 PM

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A Malaysian transgender woman, known as Sajat, who was previously charged for cross-dressing and insulting Islam, was arrested in Thailand on Sep. 8, after reportedly receiving information from Malaysian authorities.

Bangkok Post reported that she was arrested for allegedly possessing an invalid passport and that she was subsequently granted bail.

A Malaysian police officer told Harian Metro that efforts are being made to bring Sajat back to Malaysia, despite her appeal that she is receiving death threats in her home country.

Sajat's arrest caused a stir among Malaysians, who had differing opinions on her arrest, with the hashtag #LeaveSajatAlone gaining traction on various social media platforms.

Why the call to leave Sajat alone?

It was not clear who started the campaign, but its purpose was to shed light on the perceived unfair treatment against the LGBT community in Malaysia.

Some accounts on Twitter felt that the authorities' treatment of Sajat was oppressive, especially against someone who no longer considered herself a Muslim.

Some were confused by the official response. One user @gavinchow24 mentioned that the LGBT community were "asked to leave" Malaysia as the state does not recognise them.

However, when they did so like Sajat, the Malaysian government made efforts to bring Sajat back for punishment.

Others were more frustrated at how the state seemed to focus its resources on hunting down Sajat while Malaysia is in the grip of the pandemic and beset by economic problems.

A tweet by Twitter user @mr_skadoosh said: "We are facing 1001 problems with our economy. Citizens are stressed, with limited career opportunities, and the pandemic is out of control. But they are so caught up with finding Sajat. So our government has nothing better to do?"

Still others compared the search for Sajat to Jho Low, who is wanted in connection to his alleged involvement in the 1MDB scandal.

In addition, the daughter of former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, Marina Mahathir, took to Twitter to express her displeasure over the authorities' treatment of Sajat.

She chided the government by saying that if only the same amount of energy used to find Sajat was used to find Jho Low or Indira Gandhi's daughter, a missing child.

Civil society raised concerns

Other than netizens, one civil society group made up of prominent Malaysians who are former civil servants, raised their concerns over what they felt was a "paranoid" reaction regarding Sajat.

The G25 said in a statement published on the Malay Mail on Sep. 23 that they were concerned with what they felt was a "hysterical" attitude from the Malaysian government towards Sajat.

"G25 notes with concern the hysterical attitude of the government towards Sajat for being a transgender and dressing as a woman to openly display her good looks and exerting her fundamental rights," it said.

Who is Sajat?

Nur Sajat, who was born Muhammad Sajad Kamaruzzaman, is a cosmetic entrepreneur who identifies as a woman.

Sajat revealed on her Instagram in 2016 that she was born a hermaphrodite -- a person who was born with both male and female genitalia.

"I had two sets of genitalia. At that time, everyone panicked, and my parent did not know what to do," she wrote, Astro Awani reported.

The Instagram account and the post have since been deleted.

Sajat recounted that while she was brought up masculine, she was more inclined towards "feminine" activities.

The following year, in 2017, Sajat posted a document by a doctor from the KPJ Ampang Puteri Hospital, which stated that she was a female. 

However, Astro Awani reported that the doctor, Katheeja Alavi, had already resigned from the hospital three years before the letter was signed.

Marred with controversies

Other than being a trans woman in a religiously conservative country, Sajat has had a few controversies.

She was caught performing the Islamic pilgrimage in Mecca while donning a woman's religious attire.

On Feb. 2, 2020, some of her private Instagram videos showing her performing the pilgrimage in Mecca had been leaked online.

Sajat's choice of clothing also angered some of the conservative segment in Malaysia, accusing her of disrespecting Islam.

According to Free Malaysia Today, former minister in the Prime Minister's Department, Mujahid Yusof Rawa, said that Sajat's actions in Mecca had marred the image of Islam and might even affect Malaysia-Saudi Arabia relations.

"We feel regret because (Sajat) has marred the image of Islam as a person who is a man, which is stated so in the identification card," he said.

The former minister added that Sajat was dressed like a man when she was boarding the plane.

Following the incident, the travel agency which Sajat had engaged said that they had already instructed Sajat's group to be transported out of Mecca, and had also requested Sajat to apologise.

Charged for cross-dressing and insulting Islam

On January 2021, Sajat was dragged to court and charged for cross-dressing and insulting Islam under Section 10(a) of the Syariah Criminal Offences (Selangor) Enactment 1995. 

If found guilty, she is liable to a fine not exceeding RM5,000 (S$1,600) or imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years, or both.

The Star reported that back in 2018, someone had filed a complaint against Sajat for attending a religious function while donning women's attire.

On Feb. 23, Sajat did not appear in court for her hearing, which led the religious department to send 122 religious enforcement officers to find her, Malay Mail reported.

One rights group, Justice for Sisters (JFS), had criticised the religious authorities for taking such extreme and "overzealous" measures against Sajat. 

JFS had also called the religious authorities to end all prosecution against her.

No let-up in actions taken against LGBT community in Malaysia

Malaysia does not appear to be softening its stance towards the LGBT community anytime soon.

In January 2021, the Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister's Department (Religious Affairs) Ahmad Marzuk Shaary said that the country was considering harsher punishment for LGBT-related activities. 

In parliament on Sep. 15, Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob revealed that this year alone, over 1,730 LGBT individuals were sent to Jakim's (Department of Islamic Development) rehabilitation camp.

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Top images via kuasasiswa/Twitter and Nursajat24/Instagram