A prominent transgender entrepreneur in Malaysia has received death threats after a video emerged that purportedly showed her renouncing Islam .
The video, which has gone viral, appears to show Muhammad Sajjad Kamaruz Zaman, 35, popularly known as Nur Sajat, saying she does not “want to be a Muslim any more”.
“I will leave Islam, it would be better like this. [People who are anti-trans] made me want to quit the religion. Because we didn’t do anything wrong but people harshly blame us for being bad,” says the person in the video.
Beneath the post on Facebook , users have responded with a series of threats.
One wrote, “I want to stone him now”, while another wrote, “his blood is halal [permitted]”.
Human rights activists said the threats were “concerning” as there had been violence and murders against the trans community in Malaysia every year for the past decade.
Numan Afifi, communications officer of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association Asia, said the hatred being directed at Sajat was the result of years of negative media coverage and hateful speeches by political and religious figures against the Malaysian LGBT community.
“It didn’t happen in isolation,” said Numan, adding that he himself had been threatened. “All of us are at risk, not just Sajat.”
Numan urged community leaders and public figures to speak out in support of the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transsexual) community and to call out hate speech when they heard it. He also said Malaysia needed an anti-hate speech law.
The threats are not the only trouble Sajat faces. She was recently charged in a Sharia High Court after being accused of insulting Islam by dressing up as a woman at a religious event at her beauty centre in 2018. She pleaded not guilty.
Sajat failed to turn up for her court hearing last week, prompting the judge to issue an arrest warrant.
The Selangor state religious authorities deployed more than 100 officers to track and arrest her in a move activists say was aimed at intimidating the LGBT community. However, Sajat has so far evaded capture.
Zaid Malek, coordinator for the legal rights group Lawyers For Liberty, said that while issuing the warrant was “legitimate”, the number of officers sent to arrest Sajat was “an overwhelmingly disproportionate response”.
“This is an excessive use of force that is fuelled by sentiments of transphobia and an obscene display of strength to strike fear in the hearts of the Malaysian LGBT community,” Zaid said.
Sajat was accused only of cross-dressing, said Zaid, but was being treated “like an enemy of the state”.
Zaid also said the offence of “insulting Islam” was being applied too broadly.
Numan said the application of sharia law in the case was “deeply troubling” as it showed “religious forces are hell-bent on oppressing minorities” by any legal means available to them.
Malaysia has a dual-track legal system comprised of civil courts running in parallel with Islamic sharia courts where Muslim Malays can be tried on religious and moral charges. Sharia is imposed only on Muslims and deals with moral and family matters. Non-Muslims are required to follow secular laws that deal with the same matters.
Rights groups are also concerned that if Sajat is detained she could be harmed while in custody.
“Violence, harassment and intimidation in detention are things the trans community has faced over the years,” said Numan.
Sajat’s lawyer, Zuri Zabuddin Budiman, told This Week in Asia that Sajat was probably “terrified”.
“Sajat feels [she] would not get a fair trial. I urge Sajat to show up before the next court proceeding on June 1. I am here ready to fight and defend [her],” said Zuri.
Zuri said if Sajat showed up, an application could be made to have the arrest warrant nullified as she had a valid medical certificate from a government hospital to show she was sick on the day of her no-show. The day of the no-show was the last day Zuri had been in contact with Sajat, who had sent him a text message.
Zuri added of Sajat’s disappearance that her parents were “very worried”.
This article was first published in South China Morning Post.