Malaysia's prime minister denounces the scourge of two women for lesbian sex

The two women were caned in front of family members for attempting to have consensual sex with each other in a car.

After the public scourge of two Muslim women in front of a crowd of more than 100, the Malaysian Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad, has spoken about the punishment.

The punishment in the conservative northern state of Terengganu marked the first time that women have been stricken by homosexual relations in the Muslim majority of Malaysia, and has raised fears about a worsening climate for homosexuals in the country.

Mahathir added his voice to the growing criticism, saying he discussed the issue with his cabinet and felt that the scourge "does not reflect justice and tolerance in Islam."

"This gives a bad image of Islam and we believe that if there are similar cases like this we have to consider giving lighter punishments," he said.

"It is crucial that we demonstrate that Islam is not a cruel religion … that humiliates people."

Mahathir said that since it was the first offense by women, they should have received advice instead of lashes.

The women, aged 22 and 32, were arrested in April by Islamic officials after they found them in a car in a public square.

The couple, whose identities have not been revealed, pleaded guilty last month to violating Islamic laws and was sentenced to six strokes of a cane and a fine of 3,300 ringgit ($ 800).

Multiethnic Malaysia operates a two-way legal system, with Islamic courts that handle religious and family affairs for Muslim citizens, who make up more than 60 percent of the country's population.

Islamic laws are overseen by individual states in Malaysia. The state of Terengganu is governed by the conservative Islamic Party Panmalasia (PAS), which is not part of the ruling coalition at the national level.

Public scourge is a common punishment in Islamic courts.

AAP

The scourge took place in the context of what activists say is growing intolerance towards the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community of the country.

The Minister of Islamic Affairs has spoken out against homosexuals, while a transgender woman was brutally attacked in the southern state of Negeri Sembilan.

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