Malaysia: Two women caned and fined for attempting to have sex

Members of Nepal's Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender community prepare for a gay pride parade in Kathmandu

Two women were publicly caned by a Malaysian Shariah court on Monday for allegedly having sex, a punishment that drew worldwide rebuke as both cruel and indicative of growing concerns about LGBT discrimination in the country.

According to an official, this is the state's first conviction for same-sex relations and its first public caning.

The women, aged 22 and 32, were arrested in April by Islamic enforcement officers after they were found in a vehicle in a public square in northern Terengganu state, one of the country's most conservative areas.

The women, dressed in white dresses and Muslim headscarves, were each given six strokes as they sat on stools in a sharia court, with one of them breaking down in tears.

The women, ages 22 and 32, were caned by a female prison officer, Malaysian news outlets reported.

Malaysia is known to be a moderate Muslim-majority country but has seen rising religious sentiment in recent years.

Lawyers and activists say more than 100 people witnessed the caning in a Sharia court in north-east Terengganu state. The two unidentified women were discovered by Islamic officials in April and sentenced last month by a Shariah court to six strokes of a cane and a fine after pleading guilty.

He said there were fears among both Muslims and non-Muslims over efforts to implement the shariah.

Amnesty International's Malaysia Researcher, Rachel Chhoa-Howard, told PinkNews that Monday's canings represented "the first time to our knowledge that caning has been meted out for consensual same-sex relations in Malaysia".

The country operates a dual-track legal system. In the past weeks, Mujahid Yusof Rawa, minister in the prime minister's department, told reporters that the government under Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who was elected in May, does not recognize the LGBT community and focuses instead on helping LGBT people toward the "right path" through campaigns, seminars and camps.

"Sharia criminal procedure allows the court to determine where the sentence will be carried out, and requires that it must be witnessed by a number of other Muslims", he said.

The Human Right Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) also strongly condemned the caning, and called for all corporal punishment to end.

Santiago said the government was "voted in on the premise of inclusion" and must therefore repeal all laws criminalising homosexuality without delay.

"Islam teaches us to look after the dignity of every human being".

"And this is because we really need to make sure that no one is publicly caned let alone due to their sexuality", he said. During a public exhibition, he ordered that pictures of LGBTQ activists be removed, and has been vocal against the gay community.

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