Malaysia’s Transgender Tycoon Nur Sajat Granted Asylum in Australia From Blasphemy Charges

A Malaysian trans woman on the run from police after being accused of insulting Islam in her home country has apparently found refuge in Australia. The millionaire celebrity, who runs a cosmetics company and starred in a reality show, said on social media she will have to start from scratch.
Nur Sajat, a 36-year-old entrepreneur with a burgeoning cosmetics company bearing her name, said on a TikTok livestream on Monday that she was in COVID-19 quarantine after arriving in Canterbury, a suburb of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.
"I'm not running away. I'm migrating. All this while I was quiet because I wanted to open a new shop at a new location, and thank you for the support,” she said, according to The Malaysia Star.
“I just want to be free to be myself … to have human rights,” she said, adding that she “could not wait” to start afresh in Australia after having sold all her businesses in Malaysia.
“We have been quiet all this while because we plan to open a new shop in a new location and Alhamdulillah [thank God], we’ve got a lot of support. I am very excited and happy,” she said.
She also urged her followers not to judge her for her religious position. Born a Muslim, she renounced her faith earlier this year in a video posted on social media, according to the Associated Press.
"If I'm still Muslim, just let me be with my own ways, and you follow your own ways,” Sajat said on Monday. "Don't judge me. We respect each other. Stop calling me a sinner as well... Thank you, I appreciate all of your advice."
Flight From Malaysia
Her quest began in February when she failed to appear for a court hearing after being charged with insulting Islam. The charges stemmed from an incident in 2018 in which she appeared in a religious ceremony wearing women’s clothing. Afterwards, police in Selangor state, which surrounds the capital of Kuala Lumpur, mounted a massive search for Sajat, who apparently fled to Thailand, which has more permissive rights for trans people.
However, when she was arrested in Thailand last month for having illegally entered the country and threatened with deportation back to Malaysia, LGBTQ rights groups stepped up in her defense.
Thilaga Sulathireh, co-founder of Malaysian transgender activist group Justice for Sisters, told AFP at the time that 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.
About 60% of Malaysia’s 32 million people are Muslims, for whom Sharia handles religious and family matters as part of a complex legal system. The other 40%, split between Buddhists, Christians, and several other religions, follow a code of secular common law, as do Muslims in affairs that fall outside the specific purview of Sharia.
However, Malaysian Sharia, locally called syariah, has grown more stringent in recent years under pressure from conservative political groups. In 2018, for example, two women were fined and sentenced to public caning for being lesbians. It’s a trend growing across the region, where Brunei and some regions of Indonesia have enacted strict anti-LGBTQ laws in recent years.
Under Malaysian syariah, dressing in clothes of the gender one wasn’t assigned at birth is a crime, and if she were deported and convicted, Sajat would spend three years in a men’s prison for the offense.
Public Fascination
Following her arrest in Thailand, Malaysian police officials threatened her with so-called “conversion therapy” if she returned, according to the Washington Post. The widely discredited practice aims to torture LGBTQ people into giving up their identities.
Numan Afifi of Pelangi Campaign, a Malaysian LGBTQ human rights group, told the Post the “continuous persecution against Nur Sajat is a reflection of the climate of repression against the LGBTI+ community. She has experienced harassment, bullying and doxxing by online users over the years.”
Sajat’s decision to live publicly and openly as a trans woman, including even filming a reality TV series about her day-to-day life, has earned her both widespread admiration and condemnation.
“The Malaysian public is fascinated with Nur Sajat mainly because hers is a success story. She made it as an entrepreneur and became a cosmetics millionaire,” Afiq Harraz, secretary general of Parti Aspirasi Sains Malaysia (SAINS), a new political group, told the SCMP last month.
He said “the actual unnatural obsession with Sajat” really comes from Malaysian authorities, who cannot accept her open defiance of the status quo, even though she is within her rights under the Malaysian constitution to do so.
“She is harming no one with her decision,” he said.