PETALING JAYA: Over a week after two women were publicly caned for having same sex relations in Terengganu, civil groups continue to protest, claiming that the duo had initially pleaded not guilty to the charge.
Calling for a moratorium on corporal punishment, the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) said the caning, which was carried out in open court, marked a “dangerous escalation in the practice of corporal punishment”.
JAG is made up of several groups, including Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (Empower), Sisters in Islam (SIS) and Justice for Sisters.
Justice for Sisters founder Thilaga Sulathireh, whose group was an observer at the court hearing for the two women, said it found that they had lacked access to justice.
The women, she said, had pleaded not guilty to the charges in July but then changed their plea as no legal advice was given to them.
“It is hard to get legal counsel. There are also no pro bono lawyers under the Syariah criminal offence. This is a systemic issue,” she said yesterday.
On Sept 3, the women were caned six times at the Syariah High Court in Terengganu after pleading guilty to same sex relations, drawing criticism.
Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad had also expressed his Cabinet’s disagreement to the caning of the women.
SIS executive director Rozana Isa said it had submitted a memorandum to Dr Mahathir and the Cabinet on Aug 30, outlining the grounds for ending corporal punishment.
She also called on the Attorney General to review all state Syariah criminal law enactments.
“The public caning 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, cruel.
“Islam also calls for us to look after a person’s dignity and the act here was merely to insult and embarrass the person who was caned,” Rozana said.
Public caning, she said, was a form of torture – not just physically but also emotionally and mentally.
She added that the women’s actions were their personal sins.
“Why do we want to take personal sins as a criminal offence?” she said.
Empower member Honey Tan said the group had issues with the act of caning itself, compounded by the fact that it was public.
Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) commissioner Datuk Lok Yim Pheng said it was urging the government to ratify the United Nations Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment and Punishment.