Two women were publicly caned by a Malaysian Shariah court on Monday for allegedly having sex, a punishment that drew worldwide rebuke as both cruel and indicative of growing concerns about LGBT discrimination in the country.
Lawyers and activists said the women, aged 22 and 32, were seated on stools facing the judges and given six strokes from a light rattan cane on their backs by female prison officers.
While Malaysian women have been caned for adultery in the past, this is the first case of caning over sexuality.
Malaysia has a dual-track legal system which allows Islamic courts to handle religious and family cases for the country's Muslims, which make up about 60 percent of the population.
They were caned at the Sharia High Court in the state capital Kuala Terengganu.
The pair, whose identities have not been revealed, pleaded guilty last month to breaking Islamic laws and were sentenced to six strokes of the cane each and a fine of 3,300 ringgit (26,000 baht).
"I'm a practising Muslim, but I don't share that interpretation and certainly that sort of action to publicly cane without proper due process and understanding", Datuk Seri Anwar, who is president-elect of Parti Keadilan Rakyat, one of the ruling coalition partners, said at a press conference in Makati City.
Amnesty International's Malaysia Researcher, Rachel Chhoa-Howard, told PinkNews that Monday's canings represented "the first time to our knowledge that caning has been meted out for consensual same-sex relations in Malaysia".
The punishments came amid the new Malaysian government's rising rhetoric against homosexuality and follows weeks of attacks against members of the LGBT community. The most shocking fact was also that the duo were caned in public among hundred of onlookers.
Human rights organizations have condemned both the use of caning as a punishment and the fact that someone's sexual preference could be treated as a crime.
Human rights groups slammed the punishment as a setback for human rights and said it could worsen discrimination against people in Malaysia's lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender community. It's not about the severity of the caning. "Corporal punishment is a form of torture regardless of your intention".
It reads: "Homosexual acts are illegal in Malaysia and punishable under federal law, and in some states, shari'a law". And that mercy is preferable to punishment, " opposition lawmaker Khairy Jamaluddin tweeted.
"And this is because we really need to make sure that no one is publicly caned let alone due to their sexuality", he said.
Reportedly the situation for LGBT communityis getting harder and harder in Malaysia.
Human rights and LGBT activists blasted the public whipping as a form of torture.
Malaysia is seen as a moderate and stable Muslim-majority country, but Islamic conservatism is on the rise.