Malaysia | Two women face caning for same-sex conduct


Pic: Javad Tizmaghz for Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch has called on the Malaysian authorities to drop the case against two women found “guilty” of same-sex relations ahead of their caning on August 28.

The women were convicted on August 12 of violating a state Shariah law that criminalises sex between women and sentenced each to six strokes of the cane and a fine of RM3,300 (R11,417 / US$800).

“The scheduled caning of two women is the latest blow to Malaysia’s LGBT community, which had hoped for better protection under the country’s new government,” commented Graeme Reid, director of the LGBT rights program.

“This prosecution and punishment will only fuel the recent wave of homophobia and transphobia in Malaysia,” he said.

Under Malaysia’s Constitution, each state is empowered to enact laws governing offences by Muslims against Islamic precepts. The state of Terengganu, like most states in Malaysia, has outlawed sexual relations between women.

Local media quoted the prosecutor in the case as saying this will be the first time women have been caned for same-sex relations in the state. Human Rights Watch pointed out that caning constitutes “cruel and inhuman punishment” and that criminalising homosexuality violates international law.

The case comes at a time when the new government’s position on the rights of LGBT people in Malaysia is under intense scrutiny. On August 8, the government minister for religious affairs ordered the removal of portraits of a transgender rights activist and an LGBT rights activist from a display of photographs at a festival, citing the government’s policy of “not promoting LGBT rights.”

Malaysia’s Deputy Prime Minister, Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, also warned LGBT people to keep their identity out of the public eye and to not “glamourise” their lives. Last week, officers from various law enforcement agencies raided the popular Blue Boy gay club in Kuala Lumpur in order to “mitigate the LGBT culture from spreading into our society.”

In addition to the discriminatory state Shariah (Islamic) laws, homosexuality is also punishable under federal law with penalties of up to 20 years in jail.

“Malaysia’s new government should stand against discrimination and brutality and foster a culture of tolerance and equality,” Reid said. “As part of that effort, it should seek to abolish all laws against same-sex conduct and end the cruel practice of caning once and for all.”

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