Malaysia: Women caned in public for lesbian act

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Two Malaysian women convicted of attempting lesbian sex in a vehicle have been caned in front of dozens of people, according to media and a state government official, prompting an outcry from human rights activists.

The Justice for Sisters activist said the group was concerned the case would set a unsafe precedent for the increased policing of morality and sexual identities in Malaysia.

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Sharia law enforcement officers in Terengganu identified the two women attempting to engage in sexual acts in a auto in April.

Malaysia, a Muslim-majority nation, has a justice system that includes both civil courts with jurisdiction over everyone and Sharia courts that apply only to Muslims. In Terengganu, where the women were caned, liwat (sodomy) and musahaqah (sex between women) is punishable with up to three years in prison, fines and a maximum of six cane strokes.

Last month they pleaded guilty to attempting lesbian sex and were fined and sentenced to six lashings of the cane.

Rights groups had previously urged the Malaysian government to drop the case, which they argued constituted torture under global human rights law.

Charles Santiago, a lawmaker who is part of the governing coalition, said the punishment was "outrageous" and "a form of torture".

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"People should not live in fear because they are attracted to people of the same sex".

Thilaga Sulathireh, from the group Justice for Sisters, who witnessed the ordeal, was concerned about the safety, privacy, harassment, humiliation and trauma of the women.

"This case shows a regression for human rights", she said, "Not only for LGBT people but all persons because corporal punishment affects all people".

"It really is a sign of how human rights are regressing in Malaysia not only for LGBT but for all people". She said Malaysian laws were inconsistent because civil laws prohibit corporal punishment against female prisoners. It's not about the severity of the caning.

"We conduct activities with Persatuan Insaf [a non-governmental organisation] to engage the transgender community to have strong ties with the religion and guide them back to the original path", he said. "We really need to make sure that no one is publicly caned. due to their sexuality", he said.

Reportedly the situation for LGBT communityis getting harder and harder in Malaysia.

Malaysia's Muslims have generally been seen as moderate but there are concerns the community is becoming more conservative.

Authorities also removed the portraits of two LGBT activists from a public exhibition a few weeks ago, with the country's religious minister, Mujahid Yusuf, later saying that the government did not support the promotion of LGBT culture.