PETALING JAYA: The public caning of two women by the Terengganu Syariah High Court "is a travesty and a grave miscarriage of justice", according to two women's rights groups.
In a joint press statement by Justice for Sisters and Sisters in Islam, they pointed out that Prison Act 1955 and Prison Regulations 2000 stipulates that caning can only be carried out against prisoners.
"As the sentences of the two women did not include imprisonment, they were not considered prisoners as defined by the Prison Act and Prison Regulations.
"Despite this fact, they were sentenced to caning. The Kuala Terengganu Syariah High Court and Malaysian Prison Department, therefore, may have acted against the law in its execution today (Sept 3)," the non-governmental organisations said on Monday.
They also noted that Malaysia's laws are inconsistent in relation to the caning of women.
"Section 289 of the Criminal Procedure Code prohibits corporal punishment against female prisoners of any age. However, provisions under the syariah law allow women to be caned.
"These inconsistencies create confusion in the jurisdiction of the Prison Department thus directly affecting the rights of women in Malaysia protected by Article 8(2) of the Federal Constitution against gender discrimination," it said.
The NGOs said the role of the Federal Government will be brought into question as the unlawful execution of the caning sentence was carried out by the Prison Department under the Home Ministry.
"Questions are raised on why the execution was authorised and officers from the department appointed to carry out the sentence," it said.
Earlier Monday (Sept 3), two women who pleaded guilty to attempting to have same-sex relations were caned six times at the Kuala Terengganu Syariah High Court.
The sentence was conducted behind closed doors in the courtroom after it was read out by Syariah High Court Judge Kamalruazmi Ismail.
It was also witnessed by State Syariah chief judge Wan Mohd Zakri Wan Mohd and state senior syariah judge Rosdi Harun.
On Aug 12, the Syariah High Court fined the women RM3,300 and ordered that they be caned six times each after they pleaded guilty to committing musahaqah (sexual relations between women) under Section 30 of the Syariah Criminal Offences Enactment (Takzir) (Terengganu).
The sentence drew the ire of many human rights groups, including the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam).
Suhakam in a statement on Aug 15 described the punishment as humiliating and demeaning.
Amnesty International Malaysia has also called for the government to repeal laws that impose punishment on marginalised communities.
In a statement on Monday (Sept 4), Gwen Lee, Amnesty International Malaysia’s Interim Executive Director condemned the move to cane the women.
Calling it "an appalling day for LGBTI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex) rights and human rights in Malaysia", Lee said caning is a dreadful reminder of the depth of discrimination LGBTI people face in the country and a sign that the new government condones the use of inhuman and degrading punishments, much like its predecessor.
"As long as draconian legislation which criminalises Malaysians based on their sexual orientation remains on the books, LGBTI people will continue to be at risk of this type of punishment.
"People should not live in fear because of their sexual preferences – the Malaysian authorities must immediately repeal the laws that impose these torturous punishments and ratify the UN Convention against Torture," the statement said.