Two Malaysian Women Publicly Caned For Attempting To Have Lesbian Sex

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Two Malaysian women, aged 22 and 32, were convicted under Islamic law of attempting to have sex and were publicly caned as punishment, reports The Guardian.

The incident took place at the Sharia High Court in Malaysia’s conservative northeastern state of Terengganu on Monday. Two female prison officers gave each woman six strokes of a light rattan cane after their sentence was read out. The first punishment of its kind was witnessed by up to 100 people.

Women have been publicly caned for other sexual offenses, such as adultery, but it was the first time two women had been caned for attempting to have sex. Law enforcement officers caught the women trying to have sex in a car back in April. They were fined by the sharia high court on August 12 after pleading guilty to musahaqah, or sexual relations between women. Their punishment was a fine of 3,300 Malaysian Ringgit (~$800) and to be caned six times in court.

The incident drew widespread criticism from human rights groups. Thilaga Sulathireh from Malaysian rights group Justice for Sisters commented to The Guardian.

“The punishment was shocking and it was a spectacle. For all intents and purposes it was a public caning. This case shows a regression for human rights. Not only for LGBT people but all persons because corporal punishment affects all people.”

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Sulathireh also expressed her fear that the incident would increase policing of morality and sexual identities in Malaysia.

Abdul Rahim Sinwan, deputy president of the Muslim Lawyers’ Association, reported that the punishment was “not harsh” and was meant to teach the women a lesson and educate them about what was acceptable and unacceptable behavior so they wouldn’t repeat the act. Satiful Bahri Mamat, a member of the state executive council, also commented that the punishment was “not intended to torture or injure,” according to Sky News.

“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…The reason it is carried out in public is for it to serve as a lesson to society,” Mamat added.

Rachel Chhoa-Howard, Amnesty’s Malaysia researcher felt differently. She commented, “To inflict this brutal punishment on two people for attempting to engage in consensual, same-sex relations is an atrocious setback on the government’s efforts to improve its human rights records.”

Sky News also reported that there has recently been a growing intolerance of Malaysia’s LGBT population.