A composite image shows two women who were each caned six times after they pleaded guilty to homosexual activity at the Sharia High Court in the state of Terengganu, Malaysia, on Monday. Photo by EPA-EFE
Sept. 3 (UPI) -- A sharia court in Malaysia found two women guilty of attempting to have sex and caned them for punishment, authorities said Monday.
The women, ages 22 and 32, were each caned six times in the Terengganu sharia high court shortly after the sentence was announced. The caning was conducted inside the courtroom and witnessed by more than 100 people.The women were also fined 3,300 ringgit ($800).
Homosexuality is illegal in Malaysia and Muslims can be tried in shariah courts. Human rights groups said this sentence shows that the country's new government, which was elected earlier this year, is willing to enforce them.
"It's very uncomfortable, [people are] feeling very oppressed right now. People are afraid because this is the first time that two women are being caned for sexual acts," Numan Afifi of LGBT activist group, the Pelangi Campaign, told CNN.
Activists also criticized the caning itself as a spectacle designed to intimidate and further oppress gay people.
"Caning is a form of torture, and to inflict this brutal punishment publicly on two people for engaging in consensual, same-sex relations sends Malaysia back to the Dark Ages," Gwen Lee, interim executive director for Amnesty International Malaysia, said in a statement.
Thilaga Sulathireh, an activist from the Malaysian rights group Justice for Sisters, told The Guardian the sentence was a "regression for human rights."
"Not only for LGBT people but all persons because corporal punishment affects all people," Sulathireh said.
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 sentencing went smoothly and did not cause the accused any harm," he said, according to The Star.