Uproar in Malaysia over caning of two women guilty of lesbian sex

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The caning of two women convicted of lesbian sex in the east coast state of Terengganu on Monday, 3 September 2018 has stirred up a hornet’s nest of reactions & responses of political leaders from both the government & opposition.

On the part of the PAS-led state government of Terengganu, its Exco for Syariah Implementation, Education & Higher Education Satiful Bahri Mamat stated that the punishment of caning acted as a deterrent to others from committing the crime.

He goes on to say that the caning was more towards educating the public rather than harm or hurt. And in defence of the claimed 100 plus people who were in the courtroom to witness the punishment meted out, he stressed that it was merely to prove that the Syariah court was not cruel as it is different from the whipping carried out on criminals.

Anwar Ibrahim, president elect of PKR, one of the parties within the ruling Pakatan Harapan coalition government responded with harsh criticism of the punishment.

In his own words, “I’m a practising Muslim but I don’t share that interpretation and certainly that sort of action to publicly cane without proper due process and understanding”. His stand on this sensitive issue matter as he himself was a victim of a legal system that deprived him of due legal process back in 1998.

From the mainly Barisan Nasional controlled opposition side, Khairy Jamaluddin, member of parliament for Rembau in Negeri Sembilan through his Twitter account shared how that there were other ways of dealing with such a wrongdoing and that “Islam teaches us to look after the dignity of every human being. And that mercy is preferable to punishment”.

The Pakatan Harapan coalition currently controls the federal level of the government and the country’s civil criminal laws falls under federal authority. However the 14 states within the federation holds sovereign authority over matters of land, minerals and religion.

The caning of the 2 women in Terengganu, although controversial due to its widespread coverage, is not the first case that has brought state-gazetted Syariah laws clashing with federal criminal laws. This was the problem with the state of Kelantan ( also controlled by PAS ) with regard with its intentions to establish Islamic Hudud Law.

Justice for Sisters and Sisters in Islam, pro-women’s rights NGO, in a joint statement condemned the caning as “a travesty and grave miscarriage of justice”. Further, they accused the court and Prisons Department which provided the female officer to administer the said caning, have both acted against the law of the land.

The Prison Act and Prison Regulations in 2000 clearly states that only prisoners could be handed a caning punishment.
And since the two women were only fined and not given a prison sentence for the offence, it then became illegal to cane them according to the earlier mentioned Federal gazetted criminal law.

However supporters of the punishment and the Terengganu state government itself would be quick to point out that through the state sanctioned Syariah law provided through section 125 of the Syariah Criminal Procedure (Terengganu) Enactment 2001,the caning stands legal and valid.

The battle for a new Malaysia continues.