Days after the punishment was carried out, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has finally spoken out against the caning punishment of two women for having sex.
The punishment, carried out in Terengganu state in the country’s north, marks the first time two women have been caned for same-sex sexual activities, SBS reported.
The Greens later called on the Australian government to raise concerns over a growing crackdown on LGBTI people in the country.
Mahathir said he raised the issue with his cabinet and they came to the conclusion that the caning “does not reflect justice and tolerance in Islam.”
However he did not go so far as to say that the women’s consensual relationship should not be subject to punishment at all.
“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.”
He suggested that the women should have been counselled instead of caned.
The women pleaded guilty to the charges last month, and were also fined the equivalent of around $800AUD.
Terengganu is governed by a more conservative party, the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, which is not part of the coalition governing the country on a national level.
Malaysia, whose population is around 60 per cent Islamic, has a dual-track legal system which allows religious and family matters to be decided by Islamic courts.
“Australia is a leader in the Asia Pacific region and we have strong trade links with Malaysia,” said Greens Senator Janet Rice.
“The Australian government must act in light of this chilling state-sanctioned discrimination against LGBTI people.
“I call on the federal government and the new Foreign Minister Marise Payne to immediately call on the Malaysian government to stop this attack on LGBTI rights.
“Our government has the responsibility to use its considerable influence to end this horrific persecution.”
“This is a terrible day for LGBTI rights, and indeed human rights, in Malaysia,” said Rachel Chhoa-Howard, Amnesty International’s Malaysia Researcher on the day of the caning.
“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.
“The caning of the two women is a dreadful reminder of the depth of discrimination and criminalization that LGBTI people face in the country.
“It’s a sign that the new government condones the use of measures that amount to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment, much like its predecessor.”