Care needed in Sajat case
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Care needed in Sajat case

Thailand should stick firmly to humanitarian principles in its handling the case of a Malaysian transgender woman who fled conviction under Sharia law.

Nur Sajat, the owner of a cosmetics firm, is wanted by Malaysia which accused her of dressing as a woman when visiting Mecca in 2018. Malaysia, a Muslim-majority country, denounced her behaviour, saying it's an "insult to Islam" and puts Saudi Arabian-Malaysian ties at risk.

In Malaysia, she faces up to three years in jail as well as having to pay fine for dressing as a woman at a religious event. Sajat pleaded not guilty, and ran away to Thailand.

Thai police confirmed this week they had arrested Sajat, also known as Muhammad Sajjad Kamaruz Zaman, at her Bangkok condo, after a tip-off by their Malaysian counterparts. As her passport was cancelled by Kuala Lumpur, she also faces immigration-related charges and was freed on bail.

There are fears that she will be deported as requested by Kuala Lumpur. Thai deputy police spokesman Kissana Phathanacharoen told the media the process of Sajat's deportation was under way. He also mentioned the process could take time, and many factors would be taken into consideration.

On Tuesday, the Malaysian Criminal Investigation Department, the Foreign Ministry and the Attorney-General's Office, were making efforts to bring her back. At a news conference, during which she was referred to by her formal name, the director said Malaysia recommended Sajat "returns to the country in a good way to face the cases".

This is not the first time Malaysian authorities have cracked down on her. The Malaysian media in 2018 said Sajat was forced to undergo a gender test, triggering an outcry from civic society networks which reminded Malaysia's Pakatan Harapan government of a promise to make Islam a progressive force. The repressive tactics imposed on Sajat prove otherwise; that is unfortunate.

Sajat has petitioned for refugee status from the UNHCR which, according a BBC report, has been granted. She is reported to want to go to Australia.

By all accounts, Sajat is not just a case of an illegal migrant. She escaped from state harassment and threats for not following her gender assigned at birth.

The Bangkok-based Cross Cultural Foundation submitted an open letter to the prime minister, asking him not to deport Sajat and ensure that she is safe while on Thai soil, awaiting asylum.

The foundation insisted that as cross-dressing is not a criminal matter in Thailand, there are no legal obligations to send the woman back to face such charges.

The case reminds many of that of Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, a Saudi Arabian teenager stranded in Bangkok in 2019 after fleeing her family. The young woman sought asylum in a third country as her wish to abandon Islam is punishable by death, according to Saudi Arabian law. It was Canada that subsequently granted her asylum.

At least, there's a precedent to follow. As a close ally of Malaysia in the Asean community, Thailand may feel the urge to please its immediate neighbour to the south. This should not be the case.

Thai and Malaysia authorities might need to sit down for a quiet tete-a-tete, to settle their differences a friendly way and not let this case sour their ties.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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