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05 September, 2018

Two Malaysian women convicted under strict Islamic law for trying to have sex were caned in public on Monday, a punishment condemned as "atrocious" by human rights activists.

Campaigners said it was the first time that women in Malaysia have been caned for violating a sharia regulation which forbids same-sex relations.

The women, ages 22 and 32, were each caned six times in the Terengganu sharia high court shortly after the sentence was announced.

The women, who were dressed in white headscarves and clothing, sat on stools facing the judges while female prison officers struck their backs using light rattan canes, according to the Associated Press.

The women's rights coalition Joint Action Group for Gender Equality had previously highlighted that there is no consensus nationwide on the range of crimes where caning is prescribed, listing Terengganu, the Federal Territories, Johor, Penang and Sarawak as the only states and areas with caning named as the penalty for same-sex sexual relations under their Syariah Criminal Offences Enactments.

Sharia law enforcement officers in Terengganu identified the two women attempting to engage in sexual acts in a vehicle in April. The two women were subjected to six strokes of a cane following a ruling by a Sharia court, and were fined RM 3,300 (Rs 56,834). Before the caning was carried out, Gwen Lee, Amnesty International's Malaysia head, slammed the punishment as "cruel and unjust".

"They (the two Muslim women) are the ones who don't uphold their dignity YB".

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Thilaga Sulathireh, an activist for Malaysia-based human rights' group Justice for Sisters, told the Guardian that the punishment was "shocking and it was a spectacle".

Malaysia operates a dual-track legal system.

Muslim Lawyers Association deputy president Abdul Rahim Sinwan, who held a watching brief, yesterday told Malay Mail however that there was no intention to humiliate the two women as they were given private access in and out of court to protect their identities, and insisted that Shariah caning is not painful or harsh. This case shows a regression for human rights.

He called on the new government to repeal all laws that criminalize homosexuality.

"Sexual acts between two consenting adults should not be criminalised, let alone punished with whipping".

While Malaysian Muslims tend to practice a moderate form of Islam, more conservative Islam is on the rise, thought to be a result of increasing influence and investment from Saudi Arabia.

Reportedly the situation for LGBT communityis getting harder and harder in Malaysia. Just a week earlier, Malaysia's religious affairs minister ordered the removal of portraits of LGBT activists from an arts festival in Penang, telling reporters, "We do not support the promotion of LGBT culture in Malaysia".

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