STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

'People are afraid': Gay caning stokes fear in Malaysia's LGBT community

Two gay women have been caned in Malaysia amid a worsening climate for LGBT individuals in the Muslim-majori...

Posted: Sep 3, 2018 3:18 PM
Updated: Sep 3, 2018 3:18 PM

Two gay women have been caned in Malaysia amid a worsening climate for LGBT individuals in the Muslim-majority Southeast Asian nation.

The punishment of the two unnamed women took place Monday morning in Terengganu, a state to the east of the capital, Kuala Lumpur, according to rights campaigner Thilaga Sulathireth. The state is governed by Sharia law.

Demographic groups

Gays and lesbians

Law and legal system

Population and demographics

Sex and gender issues

Sharia law

Society

LGBT rights

Crime, law enforcement and corrections

Crimes against persons

Criminal offenses

Discrimination

Hate crimes

Societal issues

Violence in society

Asia

Continents and regions

Females (demographic group)

Malaysia

Southeast Asia

Belief, religion and spirituality

Islam

Religious groups

Each woman was lashed six times after being caught attempting to have sex in a parked car. They were also required to pay a fine of 3,300 ringgit ($800).

Sulathireth, who witnessed the caning along with around 100 other people, told CNN that it was a "public caning to all intents and purposes," and that one of the judges had said it was the first time a punishment of this kind had been open to the public.

Monday's punishment shows the religious right "flexing their muscles and making clear that the laws against LGBT activity will be enforced in their state," said Linda Lakhdhir, a legal adviser in the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch. Homosexual sex is illegal throughout Malaysia under colonial era criminal law.

The punishment follows a raid last month on one of Kuala Lumpur's only gay clubs, which saw around 20 men charged for "illicit behavior," and a brutal attack on a trans woman in a city close to the capital.

"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," said Numan Afifi of LGBT activist group the Pelangi Campaign.

The punishment had not previously been used in the state of Terengganu for female homosexuality.

"We don't know what's going to happen in the future. That's the general feeling," said Numan.

The punishment, while handed down by the Sharia court, has the backing of PAS (The Malaysian Islamic Party, or Parti Islam Se-Malaysia), the dominant party in the state.

Despite several attempts, CNN was unable to contact either the Malaysian Ministry of Home Affairs or PAS, the political party in power in Terengganu.

Increasingly threatened

Campaigners said they were concerned about the impact of the punishment on the wider LGBT community. "In the past few years... we had seen an increase in state sponsored anti-LGBT rhetoric," said Thilaga Sulathireh, who works with the LGBT advocacy group Sisters for Justice. "What we're seeing now is not coming out of a vacuum. It's the result of years of anti-LBGT efforts."

In August, the country's Deputy Prime Minister, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail told Malaysian media that members of the LGBT community should not seek to "glamorize" their lifestyle.

"Islam is the official religion (of Malaysia), whereby you have certain practices and it is there in black and white," said Wan Azizah, before conceding that members of the LGBT community "have the right to practice whatever (it is) they do in private."

Activists like Sulathireh point to Wan Azizah's comments as proof of the lack of government protection.

"In this climate there's been an increase sense of fear, people are a bit more careful, one of the things we've heard from the community is increased pressure from their families to be safe. We've been hearing cases of hate crimes and different kinds of aggression. This is part of an ongoing trend," said Sulathireh.

According to Sulathireh, trans women are among the most vulnerable in the LGBT community. Last year Justice for Sisters conducted a small study, interviewing 30 trans women, in which almost half documented cases of hate crimes.

"Being stared at, looked at, being catcalled. Then you have the physical side where people are attacked," said Sulathireh of the 12 hate crimes in the sample pool.

"These are largely (perpetrated) by young people, non-state actors. Sometimes their motives are clear, (but) in many of these cases that we documented, none of the trans women reported the cases to the authorities," said Sulathireh.

Exercising caution

The election of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in May this year had initially been welcomed by members of the LGBT community, but concern is now growing.

"We are seeing shrinking spaces in the new administration," Sulathireh told CNN by phone. "Just in the past 100 days we've seen different types of restrictions on LGBT people. It's very concerning."

The previous government, led by Najib Razak used the country's colonial era sodomy laws to target political opponents, including current leader of the ruling Pakatan Harapan coalition, Anwar Ibrahim.

Anwar, who was jailed for five years in 2015, walked free after being granted a pardon by the country's king in May this year. He has so far failed to speak out strongly in support of LGBT rights.

Rights groups, including Amnesty, have called on Anwar to do more to end discriminatory statements by officials and engage constructively with LGBT organizations.

"It's a long-term project. Attitudes not going to change overnight. The Malaysian government has said that they want to create an inclusive society for Malaysia, one free of discrimination," said Rachel Chhoa-Howard, a researcher at Amnesty International.

"Part of promise of real change includes ensuring human rights are for all people in the country. Changing attitudes takes longer, (and) means ending discriminatory statements by government officials."

Huntsville
Clear
60° wxIcon
Hi: 81° Lo: 59°
Feels Like: 60°
Florence
Clear
61° wxIcon
Hi: 83° Lo: 61°
Feels Like: 61°
Fayetteville
Clear
63° wxIcon
Hi: 81° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: 63°
Decatur
Clear
60° wxIcon
Hi: 81° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: 60°
Scottsboro
Overcast
55° wxIcon
Hi: 80° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 55°
WAAY Radar
WAAY WAAY-TV Cam
WAAY Temperatures

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 152272

Reported Deaths: 2621
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson22400372
Mobile14282314
Tuscaloosa9983132
Montgomery9691196
Madison899992
Shelby703560
Lee643966
Baldwin637567
Marshall426748
Calhoun410259
Etowah402049
Morgan394532
Houston363132
DeKalb316727
Elmore309552
St. Clair279742
Limestone269227
Walker268092
Talladega255034
Cullman225823
Lauderdale206340
Autauga199928
Franklin199131
Jackson199114
Colbert190627
Russell19023
Dallas185227
Blount183823
Chilton180531
Escambia170928
Covington164729
Coffee16409
Dale162551
Pike130212
Chambers127343
Tallapoosa127286
Clarke126716
Marion104229
Butler99840
Barbour9819
Marengo96721
Winston89913
Geneva8337
Pickens80317
Randolph79514
Lawrence79230
Bibb78913
Hale74529
Cherokee71514
Clay70712
Lowndes69927
Bullock63517
Henry6316
Monroe6279
Washington62112
Crenshaw59030
Perry5796
Wilcox55712
Conecuh55413
Fayette54712
Macon52919
Cleburne5247
Sumter46421
Lamar4575
Choctaw38612
Greene33316
Coosa1963
Out of AL00
Unassigned00

Tennessee Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 232061

Reported Deaths: 2922
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Shelby34370552
Davidson29801325
Knox1183387
Hamilton11097102
Rutherford11031106
Williamson661848
Sumner5636107
Wilson440253
Putnam411053
Montgomery385751
Out of TN379435
Unassigned37653
Madison361378
Bradley340821
Sullivan318844
Sevier314920
Blount310231
Washington308043
Maury307435
Robertson248539
Hamblen232743
Tipton219222
Gibson205437
Dyer202326
Hardeman178732
Coffee176020
Trousdale17407
Obion163617
Bedford159020
Dickson156218
Wayne15607
Greene155650
Anderson155513
Loudon154010
Fayette152022
McMinn150832
Cumberland148924
Lawrence146217
Jefferson145818
Weakley143425
Carter141532
Henderson135425
Monroe134823
Warren13399
Hardin131319
Lauderdale130818
Macon125724
Franklin121115
Haywood119025
Roane11857
Overton111211
Johnson11046
Hawkins109923
Carroll109324
McNairy108825
White107614
Marshall10528
Rhea104816
Cheatham96911
Lake9683
Smith93313
Bledsoe9244
Cocke92212
Giles89234
Campbell8647
Fentress8497
Lincoln8012
Crockett76620
Henry74110
Hickman73913
Chester71214
Marion6999
DeKalb67216
Decatur62511
Grainger5314
Grundy5168
Claiborne4956
Union4932
Polk46913
Jackson4165
Humphreys4094
Morgan4086
Houston38914
Benton3879
Cannon3862
Unicoi3641
Clay36312
Lewis3502
Sequatchie3294
Scott3244
Stewart3087
Meigs2944
Moore2452
Pickett2445
Perry2041
Van Buren1911
Hancock1123

Community Events