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Activists condemn public caning of 2 lesbians in Malaysia

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The public caning of two women convicted of attempting lesbian sex in a conservative Malaysian state on Monday has sparked outrage among activists and civil society groups.

The caning sentences on the women, aged 32 and 22, were carried out before some 100 people at the Syariah High Court in Terengganu, a state led by orthodox Islamic opposition party PAS.

Activists said it was the first time women in the Muslim-majority country have been caned for violating a Syariah regulation forbidding same-sex relations. They said the case highlights the worsening climate for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) people in the Southeast Asian country, according to the AFP.

Malaysian rights group Women’s Aid Organisation said it was “outraged and appalled by this grave violation of human rights.

“Sexual acts between two consenting adults should not be criminalized, let alone punished with whipping,” the group told Reuters.

Amnesty International said it 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.”

Last month, the two women, whose identities were not revealed, pleaded guilty to attempting lesbian sex, forbidden under Islamic law. The Syariah court sentenced them to a fine and six lashings of the cane.

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Lawyers and activists said the women, aged 22 and 32, were seated on stools facing the judges and given six strokes from a light rattan cane on their backs by female prison officers. More than 100 people witnessed the caning in a Shariah courtroom in northeast Terengganu state, they said.

Despite the outcry, Satiful Bahri Mamat, a member of the Terengganu state executive council, said the punishment was “not intended to torture or injure”

“Syariah criminal procedure allows the court to determine where the sentence will be carried out, and requires that it must be witnessed by a number of other Muslims,” said Satiful, who attended the hearing. Syariah is Islamic law.

However, women’s rights group Sisters in Islam said remarks by authorities that caning is not intended to cause pain or harm the women is in “direct contradiction” to the degree of humiliation the two women faced from the orchestrated spectacle, and the resulting psychological and emotional impact.

“The state’s actions here are responsible for the violence of the trauma, and humiliation caused on the two women as well as the society at large,” the human rights organization added.

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