On Thursday, a ruling by Malaysia’s top court created hope for progress on LGBTIQ+ rights in the country. However, the same day, the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (JAIS) announced the mobilisation of 122 personnel to hunt down influencer and entrepreneur Nur Sajat. Her crime? ‘Offending Islam’ by wearing a pink dress to a 2018 event as part of her charity work.
Earlier this year JAIS summonsed Nur Sajat for an interview. Nur recorded the interview on her phone, which she kept hidden in her handbag during the interview. Officers said during the interview that her attendance at the charity event did not constitute a crime. However, they insisted elements of her clothing did violate the law.
Malaysia operates a two-tier system of justice. In addition to federal criminal laws, special Shariah courts in the thirteen states of the Malaysian federation enforce Islamic laws. Muslims who break the Islamic laws risk a range of punishments including fines, jail and caning. The Malaysian constitution assumes Malays are Muslim by virtue of birth. Muslims wishing to convert face numerous obstacles. Not the least of these, Islamic courts remain the sole arbiter of conversion.
Nur Sajat runs a successful beauty business called Nur Sajat Aesthetic. Previously, she and her employees distributed aid on a monthly basis as a charitable endeavour. Religious authorities claim JAIS received complaints in 2021 about her dress on a visit to a religious school in 2018.
She wore an extremely modest dress and headscarf similar to that in the main image above.
It appears Nur Sajat’s success and social prominence make her a target. Recently, religious authorities and Muslim hardliners made frequent references to her gender identity. Her often glamourous social media photos apparently also aroused the ire of conservatives.
Last year, the Selangor Religious Affairs Minister said Islamic enforcers would conduct more arrests and provide religious education so that the transgender community can ‘return to the correct path’.
The JAIS mobilised a force to arrest Nur Sajat after she failed to appear before an Islamic court on Tuesday to answer charges related to her dress at the 2018 event.
Despite the deployment of over a hundred officers, JAIS has apparently so far not succeeded in locating her.
Malaysian court decision
On Thursday, Malaysia’s top court ruled that Selangor’s Islamic courts had no jurisdiction in the case of a man accused of attempting gay sex. The Chief Justice declared that the primary power to enact criminal law lies with parliament. As federal law already outlaws same-sex acts, that therefore places such outside the jurisdiction of the various state’s religious courts.
Gay men in Malaysia face up to twenty years in jail under a colonial-era law banning gay sex. However, convictions are rare. Thus, religious authorities increasingly turn to the religious courts to target Malaysia’s LGBTIQ+ communities.
LGBT+ rights group the Pelangi Campaign called for states to respect the court decision.
Statement from the LGBTIQ Network
“This decision paves the way to upholding human rights and justice for all. It restores confidence in the judiciary and reaffirms the democratic principles underlying the law.”#kitasamasaja #CampurLGBT #WeAreNotCriminals pic.twitter.com/3ZFvkZ3jEz
— PELANGI Campaign (@pelangicampaign) February 25, 2021
Over the top pursuit of Nur Sajat a response to Federal court decision?
However, the Pelangi Campaign also retweeted posts suggesting some relationship between the court decision and the ridiculous abuse of power directed at Nur Sajat.
122 officers on a hunt against Sajat is targeted persecution to a grossly disproportionate degree. If you ever doubted LGBTIQ ppl face state violence for simple existing – this is it.
— jacsmk ✊🏾 (@jhybe) February 26, 2021
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