'We need to grow up': Malaysian MPs condemn caning over lesbian sex

Larry Hoffman
September 4, 2018

Two Malaysian Muslim women convicted of attempting to have sex in a vehicle were caned on Monday in a rare public whipping that was denounced by some politicians and rights groups.

More than 100 people witnessed the caning in an Islamic court in the conservative northeast state of Terengganu. According to Human Rights Watch, the federal anti-sodomy law has been applied just seven times since 1938, and four of those were against former opposition politician Anwar Ibrahim in what were widely seen as spurious charges.

The incident has, however, sparked outrage from human rights activists who believe such a punishment must be abolished. The sentence was conducted behind closed doors in the courtroom.

The duo pleaded guilty last month to breaking the Islamic sharia law known as musahaqah - which bans lesbian sex - and were sentenced to lashing and a fine of $800. Before the caning was carried out, Gwen Lee, Amnesty International's Malaysia head, slammed the punishment as "cruel and unjust".

Unlike caning under civil laws, the punishment used under Islamic laws isn't meant to serve as a lesson rather than being painful or harsh, according to Sinwan.

Campaigners said it was the first time that women in Malaysia have been caned for violating a sharia regulation which forbids same-sex relations.

Court official Wan Abdul Malik Wan Sidek defended the punishment, saying it was not as tough as caning carried out for numerous crimes under Malaysia's civil law.

Two Malaysian women accused of pursuing a sexual relationship were caned in an Islamic court Monday, setting off an outcry from rights groups who said the country's political transformation this year had done little to ensure equal treatment of all citizens.

"As long as draconian legislation which criminalises Malaysians based on their sexual orientation and gender identity remains on the books, LGBTI people will continue to be at risk of this type of punishment", she continued.

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

Lawmaker Charles Santiago called on the government to repeal laws that criminalize homosexuality.

Rachel Chhoa-Howard, Amnesty's Malaysia researcher, said: "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". Islamic Affairs Minister Mujahid Yusof Rawa has spoken out against bullying and said Islamic authorities should end their focus on arresting transgender women for "posing as a female". A transgender woman was also beaten up by a group of people in a southern state this month.

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