An Islamic court in Malaysia subjected two women to a brutal public punishment after they were accused of pursuing a sexual relationship with one another.
The unnamed women were caned six times each after they were convicted of “sexual relations between women” (Yes, that’s still a thing there). Their whippings came in front of witnesses in the Shariah High Court in the state of Terengganu.
The sentence, delivered four months after an election that saw Malaysia’s governing party ousted for the first time since the country was founded in 1957, reflects the country’s deeply conservative culture despite a liberalization in its politics.
Rights groups assailed the new government for discrimination against gay men and lesbians and for continuing to allow a form of corporal punishment outlawed in most of the world.
“Caning is a form of torture, and to inflict this brutal punishment publicly on two people for engaging in consensual, same-sex relations sends Malaysia back to the Dark Ages,” Gwen Lee, interim executive director for Amnesty International Malaysia, said in a statement.
While cultural norms may be very different between the U.S. and parts of the Middle East, this isn’t an example of that. This is a form of religious torture used by religious courts.
Malaysia, a Muslim-majority nation, has a justice system that includes both civil courts with jurisdiction over everyone and Shariah courts that apply only to Muslims.
The women, aged 22 and 32, were caned by a female prison officer, Malaysian news outlets reported. The older woman did not wince at the blows, but the younger woman began to sob when she was struck, the Star newspaper reported. The women were not identified in local news reports.
Representatives of the Terengganu government and Shariah law advocates said that the women were fully clothed while caned, and that the punishment was not meant to injure them but to provide a lesson for the public on Islamic law.
“The Shariah way of caning is not brutal and oppressive, as claimed by certain quarters,” said Musa Awang, president of the Syariah Lawyers Association of Malaysia.
It’s hard to imagine any “caning” punishment rising above brutality and oppression, and legal groups in Malaysia agree.
The Malaysian Bar said the country should not tolerate caning in any form and should repeal all forms of corporal punishment.
“It is a harsh and barbaric form of punishment that causes harmful and long-lasting psychological effects, and has no place in a modern and compassionate society such as ours,” George Varughese, the president of the Malaysian Bar, said in a statement.
He’s right: There is no room for this type of torture in any modern justice system. To do this to two women, who did nothing wrong, with religion as the only justification for punishing them, is even worse. All the more reason for leaders in the country to speak out against Islamic law applied by the government.
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