Two Muslim women in Malaysia were sentenced to caning for attempting to have lesbian sex. A religious court took the decision after the women admitted to having lesbian sex, which is in contravention of strict Islamic laws. However, the punishment has sparked outrage from rights groups in Malaysia. The human rights activists called on the Malaysian authorities to review the decision.

What Happened?

In April, the Islamic enforcement officers arrested the two women aged 22 and 23. They were found in a car, allegedly attempting lesbian sex, in a public square in the northern Terengganu state. Terengganu is one of the most conservative areas of the country. On Sunday, they admitted to breaking the sharia law in front of an Islamic court.

Mohamad Khasmizan Abdullah, a prosecutor with the Terengganu religious department spoke to AFP about the case. He said, “This is a serious case. The prosecutors urged the court to impose the maximum sentence.”

He further informed that the women were sentenced to six strokes of the cane each and fined 3,300 Malaysian Ringgit ($800).

Khasmizan also added that if the sentence was carried out, they would be the first women to be caned in Terengganu for breaking Islamic laws.

As of now, the women are free on bail. On August 28, the court will proceed with the sentence. However, they have the right to appeal.

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Malaysian Legal System

Malaysia runs on a dual-track legal system. The Islamic courts handle religious and family matters and also cases such as adultery. Islamic laws outlaw gay and lesbian sex.

Muslims in Malaysia make up over 60 per cent of the country’s 32 million inhabitants. They have traditionally practised a tolerant brand of Islam. But in recent years concerns have been growing that attitudes are becoming more conservative.

Activists outraged

Amnesty International Malaysia said caning amounted to torture. It also requested the government to repeal laws that impose punishment against marginalized communities.

In a statement to Reuters, the group’s interim executive director, Gwen Lee said, the court ruling indicated a “concerning climate” of LGBT discrimination. It imposes a “growing threat on the lives and the safety” of LGBT people in Malaysia.

A statement released by rights groups Justice for Sisters, criticized the women’s sentence as “torture”. It said, “Criminalization of consensual sex between adults is a gross violation of human rights.”

LGBT community targeted

In recent years, members of the LGBT community have increasingly faced pressure in the Muslim-majority country. Accusations of officials of targeting them have been frequent.

A coalition of Malaysian human rights organizations said in a joint statement it was concerned about the impact of the sentence not only on the two women but also on the wider LGBT community.

In February, a newspaper article detailing how to identify LGBT individuals irked people on social media.  Furthermore, last week, authorities removed the portraits of two LGBT activists from a public photography exhibition. They cited the reason as it promoted LGBT activities.

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Megha Thadani is an Intern with SheThePeople.TV

Email us at connect@shethepeople.tv