Malaysian transgender entrepreneur arrested in Thailand

Nur Sajat was charged in an Islamic court outside Kuala Lumpur for dressing as a woman at a religious event in 2018.
Nur Sajat was charged in an Islamic court outside Kuala Lumpur for dressing as a woman at a religious event in 2018.PHOTO: THE STAR

KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) - A prominent Malaysian transgender entrepreneur wanted in her homeland for insulting Islam by cross-dressing has been arrested in Thailand, the police said Monday (Sept 20), with the authorities seeking her extradition.

The case of Nur Sajat, who runs a cosmetics business, has added to concerns about the worsening climate for the LGBT community in Muslim-majority Malaysia.

Officials increasingly speak out against homosexuality, and recently announced they are seeking to toughen laws against gay people.

Sajat, 36, was charged in January this year in an Islamic court outside Kuala Lumpur for dressing as a woman at a religious event in 2018 in violation of syariah laws.

The court issued an arrest warrant in February after she failed to turn up for a hearing, and she has been on the run since. She faces up to three years in jail if convicted.

Multi-ethnic Malaysia operates a dual-track legal system, with syariah courts handling some cases for Muslim citizens.

The Malaysian police said Sajat was arrested on Sept 8 in Thailand by immigration authorities for having an invalid passport and charged with immigration offences.

Sajat is wanted in Malaysia for offences including obstructing a civil servant, they said.

"Efforts are being made to bring the suspect back," added police official Abdul Jalil Hassan, giving Sajat's full name as Muhammad Sajjad Kamaruz Zaman.

The police did not give any further details. But The Star newspaper reported that Thai authorities arrested her at a luxury Bangkok condominium and that she has been released on bail.

Ms Thilaga Sulathireh, co-founder of Malaysian transgender activist group Justice for Sisters, said the "continuous persecution against Nur Sajat represents the climate of repression against LGBT persons in Malaysia".

"The police must immediately drop all investigations and harassment against Sajat," she told AFP.

A growing number of cases brought under strict Islamic laws against the LGBT community in Malaysia have sparked alarm, including the caning of two women in 2018 after they were convicted of having sex.

About 60 per cent of Malaysia's population is Muslim, and the country is also home to sizeable ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities.