Outcry Over Thai Plan to Deport Malaysian Trans Woman Wanted for ‘Insulting Islam’

BenarNews staff
Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur
2021-09-21
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Outcry Over Thai Plan to Deport Malaysian Trans Woman Wanted for ‘Insulting Islam’ Transgender woman Nur Sajat, who is wanted in Malaysia for allegedly insulting Islam, is seen in a photograph on her social media page.
[Photo courtesy @nursajat23 via Twitter]

Thai authorities are set to deport a Malaysian transgender woman, an immigration official said Tuesday, referring to an entrepreneur who is wanted by the sharia courts in her country for “insulting Islam” by dressing in women’s clothes.

Malaysia is working with Thai authorities to extradite Nur Sajat at a time when human rights activists say that harassment of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community has increased alongside a rise in conservative Islam.

Nur was arrested on Sept. 8 by “an anti-transnational crime and illegal migrant team of the immigration bureau at a condominium for illegal entry and illegal staying,” Col. Krissana Pattanacharoen, deputy spokesman for the Royal Thai Police, told reporters.

Nur was freed on bail, said Maj. Gen. Archayon Kraithong, Deputy Commissioner of the Thai Immigration Bureau.

“He is freed on bail for 30 days and after that we will deport him to Malaysia,” Archayon said, referring to Nur throughout using the male pronoun.

Nur is a cosmetics entrepreneur and social media influencer. She received death threats in March after a video emerged that showed an unidentified person saying she was renouncing Islam.

On Tuesday, unconnected to Nur’s case, a Malaysian lawmaker from a conservative Islamic party told parliament that the country needed to strengthen its Islamic bodies to counter the emergence of transgender people on social media.

“Now emerge groups of crossdressers, rampantly, on social media, without a shred of guilt dressing up like women. Are our laws too lax to curb such activities?” asked Nik Abduh Nik Aziz from the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS).

In such an environment, Nur must not be sent back to Malaysia under any circumstances, said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, adding that the entrepreneur was a United Nations-recognized refugee.

“She needs to be sent to a country that will offer rights protections, not persecute [her] for being LGBT, which is what will happen if she is sent to Malaysia,” Robertson tweeted, after Malaysian police late Monday confirmed Nur’s arrest in Thailand.

Some Malaysian news media reported – without naming sources – that Nur had secured a U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) card in Bangkok and was awaiting permission to seek asylum in Australia.

Thai immigration official Archayon said even if Nur did have such a card, it was not valid in Thailand.

“In regards with the refugee status, we treated him according to Thai laws. The UNHCR card has no standing in Thailand’s judicial system,” he said.

Nur became a wanted fugitive in Malaysia on Feb. 23 after the country’s Islamic law – or sharia – court issued an arrest warrant for her after she failed to show up for a hearing related to the charges of “Islam being insulted.”

She had been charged in January this year – and pleaded not guilty – although the incident she was arraigned for took place in February 2018.

Nur should return voluntarily, Malaysian Crime Investigation Department chief Abdul Jalil Hassan told BenarNews.

‘Charges that are discriminatory’

Many Malaysians on social media were outraged that the authorities were spending time and energy to bring back a person who had not committed any crime.

Nur Sajat faces “a host of charges that are discriminatory,” tweeted a rights activist, Michelle Yesudas.

“The authorities were sent after her in masses – disproportionate and excessive. The people in SEA who may qualify as actual war criminals are pursued with less vigor than Nur Sajat,” she said, referring to Southeast Asia.

Nur Athira, a transgender Malaysian filmmaker and activist, said the transgender community would not support Nur if she had committed a crime.

“…but her being attacked verbally and charged for Islamic contempt due to dressing appropriately during religious functions affects me and other Malay transwomen,” she tweeted.

Back in February, Justice for Sisters, a transgender rights group, said that while some may criticize Nur for not having made it to her court date, denying the LGBTQ community dignity was the real issue that needed to be addressed.

“It appears as if the state only allows LGBTQ persons to exist if they fall into the state’s definition of a Muslim person, and requires non-gender conforming individuals to ‘change’, ‘suppress’ or ‘rehabilitate’ themselves,” the group said in a statement, as reported by local media.

This sort of rehabilitation has “been rejected by international medical and human rights bodies due to its harmful effects on the well-being of LGBTQ people.”

Malaysia, this year through June, had sent 1,733 members of the LGBT community to a “rehabilitation camp” run by the Religious Development Body called JAKIM, Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob told parliament last week.

“The government is serious about the issue of LGBT people in the country as Malaysia is a country that adheres to the religion of Islam,” he said in a written reply to a question.

“Any individual who violates the law must face action. ... they need to be guided and be made aware so that they can return to the right path.”

Wilawan Watcharasakwet and Nontarat Phaicharoen, in Bangkok, and Hadi Azmi and Nisha David, in Kuala Lumpur, contributed to this report.

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