Support lesbians in Malaysia: DIVA demands action from UK government
The leading voice for lesbians and bisexual women calls on the UK government to condemn the caning of lesbians in Malaysia
LGBT activists in the UK are calling on the UK government to intervene after two women were publicly caned in front of 100 people in Malaysia for "attempting to have lesbian sex"
The women, who have not been named, were detained by Sharia law enforcement officers in April this year. Terengganu Sharia Hight Court fined them RM3,300 (£617) and sentenced the pair to six strokes of a rotan (cane) in public, the first time two women are thought to have been publicly caned for having same-sex relations, and a punishment which Malaysian campaigning organisation Justice For Sisters have described as "a dark chapter in this nation's history".
Terengganu state executive council member Satiful Bahri Mamat defended the punishment, reports the BBC, saying that it was not intended to "torture or injure" but to serve as a "lesson to society".
The public caning comes amidst "increasing hostility" towards LGBT people in the country following the election of "Malaysia Baru" in May this year.
Nisha Ayub, a transgender rights activist, says: "Since the new government, I have noticed increased oppression targeting LGBT persons… in the name of religion. This severe sentence violates the rights of women and is against the Federal Constitution of Malaysia. It should not exist in this era of New Malaysia."
In a statement, Justice For Sisters said: "This case demonstrates multiple failures in the justice system, the complicity and intention by the state to target and persecute already marginalised members of the community, and to create conditions for public acceptance of violent and humiliating treatment… It sets a dangerous precedent for the increased policing of morality and sexual identities in Malaysia.
"We call on all members of the Malaysian public to unequivocally reject such a violent trajectory. We further call on our elected leaders to take immediate and committed action to end and eliminate all forms of state-sanctioned moral policing, erosion of fundamental rights and freedoms, and to cease the cruel, inhumane and degrading practice of whipping and caning in the criminal justice system."
This incident is the latest in several incidents of persecution against queer people, as reported by The Malaysian Insight, including government-sanctioned bar raids, and the attack of a trans woman in Negeri Sembilan by a gang of men brandishing weapons.
Numan Afifi, an LGBT activist from Malaysia, described the situation as "a manifestation of decades of neglect and oppression" and asked: "How much violence needs to happen before we do anything to stop this?"
"This climate makes LGBT communities feel helpless and threatened," says Chong Yee Shan from human rights organisation Diversity Malaysia, adding that the sentence received by the two women will "encourage perpetrators and aggressors to continue their hostility, violence and acts of aggression towards the community."
The punishment against the women has sparked global outrage, with some demanding a boycott of Malaysia, and other LGBT activists calling on the UK government to publicly oppose the caning.
Linda Riley, publisher of DIVA and LGBT advisor to the Labour Party, said: "The UK government has a responsibility to use its influence and stop the abuse of our sisters in Malaysia. We cannot sit idly by and do nothing."
Homosexuality is illegal in Malaysia under both religious and secular laws, and can carry a 20-year prison sentence.
The Foreign Office did not respond to DIVA's request for comment.
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