Metro Weekly

Two lesbian women caned for consensual sex in Malaysia

Amnesty International calls caning an "atrocious setback" for human rights

Crystal Mosque in Terengganu, Malaysia – Photo: Leslieyeoh, via Wikimedia.

Authorities in Malaysia caned two lesbian women on Monday, sparking fears of possible future crackdowns against members of the country’s LGBTQ community.

The caning took place in front of a crowd of about 100 people in Terengganu, a state east of the capital, Kuala Lumpur.

It had previously been postponed, ostensibly for “technical reasons,” though several observers noted that the postponement happened after outcry from human rights activists.

The two unnamed women were lashed six times after being caught having sex in a parked car. They were also fined 3,300 ringgit, or about $800, after pleading guilty to violating both a colonial-era law outlawing homosexuality, as well as Shariah law.

Thilaga Sulathireth, a human rights advocate who witnessed the caning, reported that one of the judges said it was the first time that such a caning had been carried out publicly, reports CNN. The punishment had also never been used before to punish consensual homosexual acts between women.

Linda Lakhdhir, a legal adviser in the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch, told CNN that the caning is the latest example of the religious right in Malaysia “flexing their muscles and making clear that the laws against LGBT activity will be enforced in their state.”

Similar punishments have been carried out in other Muslim-majority countries or provinces where Sharia law is in effect, most notably in Indonesia. Much like Indonesia, right-wing Islamic political parties control certain provinces within Malaysia, and the ruling political party largely condones their actions.

In August, Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Wan Azizah Wan Ismail seemed to condone such punishments when he suggested that members of the LGBTQ community should not seek to “glamorize” their lifestyle.

“Islam is the official religion [of the country], whereby you have certain practices and it is there in black and white,” he said, while also conceding that members of the LGBT community “have the right to practice whatever they do in private.”

Activists, including Sulathireth, say the deputy prime minister’s comments indicate an unwillingness to intervene in such matters, even when the punishments recommended by Shariah courts are thought to violate international human rights law.

“In this climate there’s been an increase sense of fear, people are a bit more careful, one of the things we’ve heard from the community is increased pressure from their families to be safe,” Sulathireth told CNN. “We’ve been hearing cases of hate crimes and different kinds of aggression. This is part of an ongoing trend.”

Malaysian authorities recently raided one of Kuala Lumpur’s only gay clubs, arresting about 20 men and charging them with “illicit behavior.” Nearly identical raids of places where LGBTQ people are thought to congregate have occurred in Indonesia in recent months as well.

Amnesty International issued a statement denouncing the caning of the two women and holding it up as an extreme example of the persecution that LGBTQ people can face in their daily lives.

“This is a terrible day for LGBTI rights, and indeed human rights, in Malaysia,” said Rachel Chhoa-Howard, Amnesty International’s Malaysia Researcher. “To inflict this brutal punishment on two people for attempting to engage in consensual, same-sex relations is an atrocious setback in the government’s efforts to improve its human rights record.

“As long as draconian legislation which criminalizes Malaysians based on their sexual orientation and gender identity remains on the books, LGBTI people will continue to be at risk of this type of punishment,” Chhoa-Howard added. “People should not live in fear because of who they are and who they love — the Malaysian authorities must immediately repeal repressive laws, outlaw torturous punishments, and ratify the UN Convention against Torture.”

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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