PETALING JAYA: The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) has urged the Government to enforce a moratorium on corporal punishment, following the public caning of two women in Terengganu for attempting to have same-sex relations.
Sisters in Islam (SIS) executive director Rozana Isa said JAG had submitted a memorandum to Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and his Cabinet on Aug 30, outlining the grounds for ending corporal punishment.
The memorandum looks at four main areas: Syariah, sentencing guidelines, constitutional and legal issues, as well as international obligations.
Rozana also called on Attorney General Tommy Thomas to review all state Syariah criminal law enactments.
"The public caning which was held recently was portrayed as a punishment that was not torturous. We want to emphasise here that in caning, it is inhumane, and regardless of how it was conducted, is cruel.
"Islam also calls for us to look after the dignity of a person and the act of caning here was merely to insult and embarrass the person who was caned," Rozana said during a press conference on Wednesday (Sept 12).
Also at the press conference were Justice for Sisters founder Thilaga Sulathireh, Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (Empower) member and constitutional law practitioner Honey Tan, and the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) commissioner Datuk Lok Yim Pheng.
JAG, is made up of several NGOs including Empower, SIS, Justice for Sisters, among others.
Rozana added that public caning was a form of torture not just physically, but also emotionally and mentally, adding that the women's actions were known as their own personal sins.
"Why do we want to take personal sins as a criminal offence?" she asked.
Tan said the group had issues with the act of caning itself and it was compounded by the fact that it was a public caning session for all to see in public.
She added that the act of caning contravenes Article 5(1) of the Constitution, which guarantees every individual the right to life and personal liberty.
Meanwhile, Thilaga said Justice for Sisters, who was an observer at the Court hearing of the two women, found that the women lacked access to justice in Malaysia.
She said the women had pleaded not guilty to the charges in July, but had changed their plea to guilty, as no legal advice was given to them.
"It is hard to get legal counsel, there is also no pro bono lawyers under the Syariah criminal offence. This is a systemic issue," she said.
Lok added that Suhakam is urging the Government to ratify the UN Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment and Punishment (CAT).
On Sept 3, two women pleaded guilty to attempting to have same-sex relations.
They were caned six times at the Syariah High Court, which resulted in criticisms from both sides of the political divide and from civil society groups.Dr Mahathir had also expressed his Cabinet's disagreement to the canings of the two women.