“Caning is a form of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and may amount to torture,” Amnesty International Malaysia said in a statement. “People should not live in fear because they are attracted to people of the same sex. The Malaysian authorities must immediately repeal repressive laws, outlaw torturous punishments and ratify the UN Convention Against Torture.”
Malaysia follows a dual-track justice system. Nearly two thirds of Malaysia’s 31 million people are Muslims, who are governed by Islamic courts in family, marriage and personal issues. The two unidentified women were discovered by Islamic officials in April and sentenced last month by a Shariah court to six strokes of a cane and a fine after pleading guilty.
Thilaga Sulathireh, from the group Justice for Sisters who witnessed the caning, said she was shocked by the public spectacle. She said Malaysian laws were inconsistent because civil laws prohibit corporal punishment against female prisoners.
“It’s a regression of human rights in Malaysia. It’s not about the severity of the caning; corporal punishment is a form of torture regardless of your intention,” she said.
Malaysia is seen as a moderate and stable Muslim-majority country, but Islamic conservatism is on the rise.
The caning occurred amid a climate of fear and discrimination against Malaysia’s LGBTQ community. A few weeks ago, authorities removed the portraits of two LGBTQ rights activists from a public exhibition. Malaysia religious minister Mujahid Yusuf later said the government doesn’t support the promotion of LGBTQ culture. A transgender woman was also beaten up by a group of people in a southern state this month.