"I was so confused why they hit me."
A transgender woman fled to the UK after her brother was killed by a mob for supporting her.
Hiba Noor was also forced to miss her mother’s funeral as “she would be shot” if she attended.
Her story comes as Home Secretary Suella Braverman said that “trans women have no place in women’s wards or indeed any safe space relating to biological women”.
The 29-year-old filmmaker, who now lives in London, was forced into hiding in Pakistan for a year after receiving death threats.
Recalling the first time she faced persecution, Hiba said:
“In Pakistan when I was like five years old, we had a tradition that before school you go to the masjid or madrassa for Quranic education – as usual my family was religious so they sent me and my cousins to the masjid.
“When I went there, there was a female row in front of the Qari Saab (reciter) and a male row.
“I got confused about where to sit so I sat in the female row as I was more comfortable at that age with females.
“The Qari got angry and said you haven’t been taught any manners, you’ve sat with females, he hit me with the wooden Quran stand on my back and my back started bleeding.
“He then dragged me to the boys’ side. This was just a few days after Eid so I also got henna done and he saw that and got more angry and hit me so much that I went unconscious.”
Throughout school, Hiba was bullied and beaten for being more feminine.
“I was so confused why they hit me. As I grew, I understood society’s aggression towards me, people said she walks like a girl, she talks like this.
“Even in school my own teachers made fun of me, can you imagine I’ve been to more than 20 schools – every six months the teachers would say ‘You need to leave as this is an Islamic country and parents are complaining so we can’t keep you’.
“My being was the reason, not because I wasn’t intelligent or I didn’t do my homework, but I was hit because I was sitting like a girl.
“I remember I was in 7th class, my teacher said get up and walk in front of everyone and everyone laughed and said you’re walking like a girl.”
“I was told to slap a girl like a ‘masculine person’ and I did it lightly as I didn’t want to hurt her.
“The teacher got angry and told everyone to slap me and said, ‘Now you know what it feels like to be slapped in a manly way’ – I cried so much I didn’t tell my family, I went into the shower crying.”
Her mother and brother remained supportive and her brother even went with Hiba to a doctor’s appointment where she found out she had gender dysphoria.
She recalled he had said, ‘It’s fine, God has blessed me with a sister instead’.”
Hiba went on to become a filmmaker but when she refused to work at an event organised by religious extremists, she began receiving death threats.
She told MyLondon: “I said I won’t cover this conference to my brother, I was taking hormonal therapy and they started saying we promote western agenda, they said we will kill you and your brother.
“My family then went to a village for a few days to escape as we feared for our lives, when we came back to our home our house was wrecked, they went to my room and any medical documents they took.
“My brother said don’t come back to Islamabad, go Karachi, I went to Karachi and I hid.
“Then on August 3, 2018, I received a call from my mum and sister-in-law.
“They said a mob attack killed my brother, the religious people hit my brother so much, his car was fine, but every part of his body was destroyed.
“He tried to save me, he never hurt anyone, he helped his sister.
“When they killed him I went to the police and they said they can’t help me as they had called threatening. They even threatened me.”
After her brother’s death, Hiba’s grandmother went into shock and died a week later. Following this, Hiba’s mother was diagnosed with liver cancer.
She took her mother to a hospital where she was told she could get a transplant and found a donor.
But at the last minute, the doctor got a threatening call and told Hiba he cannot treat the mother of a transgender woman.
“They left my mum to die and said if you attend your mum’s funeral we will kill you so I couldn’t even attend her funeral.
“They said we are watching the hospital we have appointed people and we will shoot you – I used to get calls on a private number.”
For a year, Hiba hid in different cities in Pakistan and relied on food deliveries.
Finally, she decided to escape Pakistan.
“Can you imagine one whole year I stayed in a room, my mental health was so bad, I thought I was crazy sometimes I would laugh, sometimes cry.
“I found out about European countries in Covid they were shut, the UK embassy was open so I applied for a visa and the day I got a visa, I received a threat saying ‘you’re so clever for going to the UK’ they said we have shooters everywhere and I will not be able to fly from any airport.
“But I planned, and in the middle of the night, I went to the Qabristan to find my mum’s grave to say bye to her.”
“But when I looked for my mum and brother’s grave and asked the helpers they said someone had come to bulldoze the grave of transgender parents and siblings. I was broken.”
Hiba eventually fled Pakistan after a friend’s husband – who worked at the airport – helped her sneak on the plane.
She explained: “I was just like a dead person and then another chapter of my life started.
“For three months in the UK I was under the mental health crisis team, 24/7 I would just cry not sleep.
“They brought me towards a little life and a few days ago when I heard Suella’s comments it has made me so angry that it was better that they would have killed me in Pakistan.
“A slap would hurt less than Suella’s words.”
Speaking about Ms Braverman’s comments, Hiba said they have made her feel as if she has “gone from one hell to another”.
Hiba has been in the UK for 18 months and she recently received refugee status which means she can apply for jobs and does not have the worry of being sent back to Pakistan.