Photo: Instagram [@nursajat24]

A transgender businesswoman in Malaysia said she had to flee the country following an attack by anti-trans religious police.

Nur Sajat Kamaruzzaman, a 36-year-old cosmetics entrepreneur, was charged with insulting Islam after being arrested for wearing a baja kurung (a long-sleeved outfit traditionally worn by women in Malaysia) at a private event in 2018.

She escaped Malaysia in January after being allowed to seek asylum in Australia when given refugee status.

Kamaruzzaman could face up to three years in prison as the Malaysian authorities view her as a man and, under Islamic law, a man may not dress as a woman.

“I had to run away,” she told the BBC from Sydney. “I was treated harshly, I was hit, pushed, handcuffed, all in front of my parents and family. I felt ashamed and sad. I gave them my cooperation, but they still did that to me.”

Kamaruzzaman was referring to JAIS, the religious affairs department that brought the charges against her in the state of Selangor.

“Maybe it was because they see me as a trans woman, so they did not care if I was held, beaten, stamped on. We trans women have feelings too. We deserve to live our lives like normal people.”

The businesswoman was first arrested in September by immigration authorities in Thailand which resulted in Malaysia trying to extradite her back to the country to charge her.

News of her initial arrest made headlines and even prompted a response from Malaysia’s religious affairs minister at the time.

“If [she] is willing to come to us, admits doing wrong, if [she] is willing to return to [her] true nature, there is no problem,” Iris Ahmad told the BBC. “We do not want to punish [her], we just want to educate [her].”

Kamaruzzaman is incredibly well known in Malaysia after gaining social media fame around seven years ago when she began promoting herself online.

A self-made entrepreneur, she now has her own skincare and health supplements.

In 2013, she won an award for dancing in one of Thailand’s famous transgender beauty contests.

Kamaruzzaman told the BBC that her adopted son and daughter are being cared for by family back home in Malaysia, but she continues to miss them deeply.