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After caning, Malaysia rights groups call on government to stop corporal punishment

After caning, Malaysia rights groups call on government to stop corporal punishment

a woman is wearing a white hijab and is kneeling on the ground. a person whose identity is covered is caning her

Malaysia’s Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) urged the Government to cease corporal punishment. The move follows the public caning of two women for attempting lesbian sex earlier this month.

The two women, aged 22 and 32, were arrested by Islamic enforcement officers in April. Officers found them together in a car park in the country’s conservative Terengganu state. An Islamic Syariah Court sentenced the women to six lashes and a fine of RM3,330 (US$814).

The coalition of gender equality groups said the caning was ‘inhumane’ and ‘cruel’. It urged the government to cease corporal punishment and consider Syariah courts.

Justice for Sisters, a transgender rights group and member of JAG, spoke out against the punishment at a JAG press conference on Wednesday (September 12).

Co-founder Thilaga Sulathireh bemoaned the lack of access to justice.

She said the women pleaded not guilty to the charges in July. But, she explained, the pair then changed their plea to guilty due to a lack of legal advice.

‘It is hard to get legal counsel, there is also no pro bono lawyers under the Syariah criminal offence. This is a systemic issue’, Thilaga Sulathire said.

Malaysia’s Syariah Court – Syariah is the Malay spelling of Shariah – runs in parallel to the main judiciary. Courts can jail people for up to three years, fine people up to RM5,000 (US$1,206), and up to six cane lashes.

It covers over all Muslims in Malaysia but only in matters of family law and religious observance. About two thirds of Malaysia’s population is Muslim.

‘Right path’

Local and international rights groups have already spoke out against last month’s caning. They warned Malaysia is becoming an increasingly hostile place for LGBTI people.

Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch Asia, urged Malaysia to end its ‘medieval practices’ towards LGBT persons.‘Caning is torture, full stop.’

The caning was a ‘a dreadful reminder of the depth of discrimination LGBTI people face in the country,’ said Amnesty International Malaysia.

‘The new government condones the use of inhuman and degrading punishments, much like its predecessor,’ it said on Twitter.

But worryingly the peninsular state of Pahang suggested it may follow in Terengganu’s footsteps and start caning LGBTI people.

The Pahang Islamic Religious Department (JAIP) said last week it may update its laws to introduce caning.

‘We support (the caning sentence) as it shows the beauty of Islam but in Pahang, we have not decided yet and will look into it,’ Pahang Islamic Religious Department  director Datuk Mohamad Noor Abdul Rani told media.

Rani said the JAIP will run ‘education’ programs to lead LGBTI people back on to the ‘right path’.