Justice for Sisters (JFS) is extremely concerned about the latest development in relation to Sajat’s prosecution by Selangor Islamic Religious Department (JAIS) for insulting Islam and wearing female attire under the Selangor Syariah Criminal Offences Enactment 1992. In an announcement by JAIS Director, Datuk Mohd Shahzihan Ahmad, JAIS had deployed 122 officers to search and arrest Nur Sajat.
We are astonished by the financial and human resources that are being allocated for this search and arrest operation against Sajat. All these actions by JAIS are extreme and demonstrate their overzealousness in arresting and detaining Sajat at all costs for merely expressing herself and her gender identity.
JFS questions the two charges against her. Her charges are allegedly connected to a religious charity event that she organized in 2018, where she wore a baju kurung. Her wearing a baju kurung is deemed as an insult to Islam. Further, as a result of the series of doxing efforts by both state and non-state actors, the recorded identity on her birth certificate as well as her identity card was disclosed to the public, setting the stage for her prosecution.
The continuous prosecution against Sajat based on her gender identity is a violation of Article 8, which safeguards persons from gender-based discrimination. While the state attempts to view gender through a binary lens, gender is a multilayered and umbrella term which includes, among others:
- gender identity – how a person identifies themselves. Gender identity is different from sex. Sex refers to our body [structure], meanwhile gender identity refers to how a person sees themselves along the feminine masculine spectrum. Gender identity manifest through self expression;
- gender expression – how a person expresses themselves; and
- gender stereotypes – harmful roles, generalizations and assumptions based on gender identity that may result in discrimination, violence and marginalization.
Underlying the state persecution against Sajat is the criminalization and non-recognition of trans, intersex and non-binary persons. The persecution also raises serious questions regarding Muslim trans, intersex and non-binary persons’ freedom of religion in Malaysia. It appears as if the state only allows LGBT persons to exist if they fall into the state’s definition of a Muslim person, and requires non-gender conforming individuals to ‘change’, ‘supress’ or ‘rehabilitate’ themselves, all of which have been rejected by international medical and human rights bodies due to its harmful effects on the well-being of LGBT people. In fact, many countries now have laws against conversion therapy or practices to change a person’s actual or perceived gender identity and sexual orientation. Malaysia’s practices and treatment of LGBTQ persons in Malaysia are in contravention with these international laws, norms and practices.
While some may say that Sajat had brought this upon herself for not complying with court dates, there are deeper structural issues that need to be questioned and unpacked.
It is also important to understand and empathize with the mental health burden and stress experienced by persons who are prosecuted because of their gender identity, gender expression and/or sexual orientation. The gendered and gender binary practices in the syariah courts deny trans people their dignity and as result add barriers for them to seek redress and remedies.
The issues that we are seeing in relation to Sajat’s case are all too common based on our experience in providing urgent response for trans and LGBTQ persons. Many facing persecution have taken risky and harmful coping measures when they are experiencing state prosecution, as the fear–of being imprisoned in male prisons, having their head shaved, the societal condemnation, being stripped away of their autonomy, freedom and dignity–are all too real for them.
Given all these harms, we call on the Selangor state government to end all prosecution against Sajat immediately.
We also ask the media to not deadname (use of name assigned at birth without consent) and misgender trans, intersex and non-binary persons. It is extremely important that the media takes measures to respect the identity and privacy of a person’s identity based on respect for the universal principle of self determination.