Two Malaysian women caned for lesbian sex

KUALA TERENGGANU • Two Malaysian women were caned yesterday for having lesbian sex in violation of Islamic laws, sparking outrage from activists at the "inhuman and degrading" punishment.

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

Rights campaigners said it was the first time women in Malaysia have been caned for violating a syariah regulation which forbids same-sex relations.

The country operates a dual-track legal system. Islamic courts can handle religious and family matters for Muslim citizens, as well as cases such as adultery.

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

The pair, whose identities have not been revealed, pleaded guilty last month to breaking Islamic laws and were sentenced to be whipped and fined RM3,300 (S$1,100).

They were caned in front of a packed courtroom in the state capital of Kuala Terengganu, a journalist in the court said. The younger woman sobbed but the elder one showed no reaction.

The punishment sparked a barrage of criticism, with Malaysian rights group Women's Aid Organisation saying it was "outraged and appalled by this grave violation of human rights" and that "sexual acts between two consenting adults should not be criminalised, let alone punished with whipping".

Amnesty International said the punishment was a "dreadful reminder of the depth of discrimination LGBT people face in the country and a sign that the new government condones the use of inhuman and degrading punishments, much like its predecessor".

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.

Caning under Islamic law is carried out with a relatively thin cane on subjects who are fully clothed, and is more about humiliation than causing pain.

Lesbian sex is illegal for Muslims in Malaysia under strict Islamic laws, but not for the country's substantial minorities of ethnic Chinese and Indians. Sodomy is a crime for all ethnic groups under a law dating back to British colonial rule, although the statute is rarely enforced.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 04, 2018, with the headline 'Two Malaysian women caned for lesbian sex'. Print Edition | Subscribe