Two Malaysian women have recently been sentenced to be caned after allegedly engaging in lesbian sex, a religious crime in Malaysia. 

The two women, aged 22 and 32, were arrested in April for attempted sexual intercourse in a car. Islamic enforcement officers found them at a public square in northern Terengganu state, one of the most conservative areas of the country. The officers saw one undressed, and also found a dildo in the vehicle.

The women admitted to Islamic court for breaking the sharia law, musahaqah. Musahaqah is one of the many anti-LGBTQ laws in Islam, and it forbids sexual relations between women.

According to Section 30 of the 2001 Syariah Criminal Offences Enactment (Takzir Terengganu), any women who commit musahaqah could receive the following: a fine not exceeding five thousand ringgit, imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years, or whipping not exceeding six strokes or to any combination thereof.

Both women were sentenced to six strokes each from the cane and a fine of 3,300 ringgit (estimate of $800) after pleading guilty. A prosecutor with the Terengganu religious department, Mohamad Khasmizan Abdullah, stated they would be the first women to be caned in Terengganu for breaking Islamic laws if the sentence carried out.

“Sexual intercourse between people of the same sex is forbidden in Islam. It is an offence and morally wrong,” Khasmizan said to Thomas Reuters Foundation by phone. “This verdict is a first for us.”

The court ruling indicated a concern for the broader LGBTQ community. Shariah judge Kamalruazmi was quoted as saying, “Adequate punishment must be metered out so that this becomes a lesson and reminder to not just the two of you, but the members of society.”

Activists believe intolerance towards the LGBTQ community in Malaysia increases fuel for further discrimination and violence.

The organization Justice for Sisters, raises public awareness on issues surrounding violence and persecution in Malaysia. The group released a statement of the sentence violating many human rights under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the Federal Constitution of Malaysia.

Under UDHR, according to activists, the sentence violates Article 1 (all humans born free and equal in dignity and rights), Article 5 (no one shall be subjected in cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment), Article 12 (right to privacy), Article 13 (freedom of movement).

Additionally, opponents of the sentence claim that under the Federal Constitution of Malaysia, the sentence violated Article 5 (protection in right to life and liberty), Article 8 (equality and non-discrimination based on gender), and Article 9 (freedom of movement).

“The new government has repeatedly affirmed that LGBTIQ Malaysians are protected as citizens under the Federal Constitution. This case calls for Pakatan Harapan to protect, promote and fulfill the rights of all persons, including LGBTIQ persons,” Justice for Sisters wrote on their website. Pakatan Harapan is the Malaysian name for The Alliance of Hope, a center-left political coalition in Malaysia. “We call the Pakatan Harapan government to immediately intervene in this matter, and end victimisation and torture against the two women in this case.”

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