Malaysia PM denounces caning of two women for lesbian sex


Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has denounced the caning of two women, who were convicted in an Islamic court for having consensual sex with one another.

After the public caning of two Muslim women in front of a crowd of more than 100, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has spoken out about the punishment. 

The punishment in conservative northern Terengganu state marked the first time women have been caned for same-sex relations in Muslim-majority Malaysia, and has heightened fears about a worsening climate for the country's homosexuals.

Mahathir added his voice to growing criticism, saying he discussed the issue with his cabinet and they felt the caning "does not reflect justice and tolerance in Islam". 

"This gives a bad image of Islam and we believe that if there are similar cases like this we need to consider giving lighter punishments," he said.

"It is crucial we show Islam is not a cruel religion... that humiliates people."

Mahathir said since it was the women's first offence, they should have been given advice rather than caned.

The women, aged 22 and 32, were arrested in April by Islamic enforcement officers after they were found in a car in a public square.

The pair, whose identities have not been revealed, pleaded guilty last month to breaking Islamic laws and were sentenced to six strokes of the cane and a fine of 3,300 ringgit ($800).

Multi-ethnic Malaysia operates a dual-track legal system, with Islamic courts handling religious and family matters for Muslim citizens, who make up over 60 percent of the country's population.

Islamic laws are overseen by individual states in Malaysia. Terengganu state is governed by the conservative Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), which is not part of the ruling coalition at the national level.

Public caning is a common punishment in Islamic courts.
Public caning is a common punishment in Islamic courts.

The caning came against a backdrop of what activists say is growing intolerance towards the country's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. 

The Islamic affairs minister has spoken out against homosexuals, while a transgender woman was brutally attacked in the southern state of Negeri Sembilan.

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