Two women were publicly caned by a Malaysian Shariah court on Monday for allegedly having sex, a punishment that drew global rebuke as both cruel and indicative of growing concerns about LGBT discrimination in the country.
"People are afraid because this is the first time that two women are being caned for sexual acts", she told CNN.
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Malaysia, a Muslim-majority nation, has a justice system that includes both civil courts with jurisdiction over everyone and Sharia courts that apply only to Muslims.
But in an example of how divided activists and some government officials are, Terengganu Bar Council Chairman Sallehudin Harun said he was impressed with the caning and said it puts the shariah court in a "positive light". The state's Sharia high court sentenced them August 12 to six strokes of a cane for "sexual relations between women" and fined them the equivalent of about $800.
Muslim Lawyers' Association deputy president Abdul Rahim Sinwan said the women, aged 22 and 32, were given six strokes on their backs by female prison officers.
Rights groups had previously urged the Malaysian government to drop the case, which they argued constituted torture under global human rights law.
A spokesperson for the group predicted: "People will try to track down all LGBTQ people and get them punished". The most shocking fact was also that the duo were caned in public among hundred of onlookers.
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The caning is believed to be the first punishment of its kind for the state, and it drew widespread condemnation from human rights groups.
Human rights activists reacted with outrage.
Muslim Lawyers' Association deputy president Abdul Rahim Sinwan defended the caning of the two unidentified women, insisting that the punishment under Islamic law isn't painful and was meant to teach the women to repent. It's not about the severity of the caning.
"Islam teaches us to look after the dignity of every human being. Corporal punishment is a form of torture regardless of your intention", she said.
Lawmaker Charles Santiago called on the government to repeal laws that criminalize homosexuality.
"And this is because we really need to make sure that no one is publicly caned let alone due to their sexuality", he said.
The country, whose population is around 60 percent Muslim, has seen a recent rise in Islamic conservativism, with the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in Malaysia regularly subjected to discrimination and hostility.
The Islamic affairs minister has spoken out against homosexuals and ordered pictures of LGBT activists to be removed from a public exhibition, while a transgender woman was brutally attacked in the southern state of Negeri Sembilan.