The UK government has condemned the caning of two Malaysian women for a same-sex relationship.
Malaysia has taken a sharp shift against LGBT+ rights over the past few months, with a climate of fear and hostility leading to a crackdown on the gay community.
Two women in the state of Terengganu state were caned on September 3, receiving six lashes each after they were convicted of having a consensual same-sex relationship.
UK government minister Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon has now responded to the incident.
In response to a parliamentary question from out Lib Dem peer Lord Scriven, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office minister said the UK had made its distress known.
He said: “The government was deeply concerned by the caning of two Malaysian women on 3 September for having a same-sex relationship.
“Our High Commissioner to Malaysia wrote to the Chief Minister of Terengganu to convey UK views on the criminalisation of homosexuality, on the sentence of caning and made an appeal for clemency.
“Our High Commissioner in Kuala Lumpur has also tweeted her disappointment on the sentence.
“We engage regularly with government, states, and civil society in Malaysia on human rights, including the rights of the LGBT community. The UK opposes all corporal punishment and any other forms of cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment, in any circumstances, anywhere around the world.”
The UK’s High Commissioner Vicki Treadell had tweeted that the caning was a “sad day,” adding: “LGBTQ Rights are Human Rights.”
Treadell also shared a message from EU officials, which states that the punishment “constitutes a breach of their human rights and a form of torture.”
The EU statement said: “The rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons are protected under existing international human rights law and relevant international conventions without discrimination.
“Caning – a form of corporal punishment – is a cruel, inhumane and degrading practice. The public nature of the punishment has been a further humiliating and degrading factor for the two women.
“The human rights of LGBTI persons need to be guaranteed and protected according to Malaysia’s international obligations.”
The country’s Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir bin Mohamad took the rare step of disavowing the decision to cane the women in a Facebook video after criticism.
He said: “The cabinet is of the opinion that this [caning] does not reflect the justice and mercy of Islam… we are acting as if there is no mercy at all in Islam.
“What’s important is to show that Islam is not a ruthless religion that dishes out sentences that humiliate people. This is not what Islam encourages.”
Homosexuality is illegal in the country for both men and women, and individual states have faced pressure to adopt more hardline Islamic laws that permit the violent sentences.
Although the PM apparently opposes caning as a punishment for gay couples, he will not decriminalise homosexuality.
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He said in September: “Malaysia has a different value system than the Westerners. For instance, we cannot accept LGBT as well as the marriage of man and man or woman and woman.
“The concept of family remains the same—that it [constitutes] a couple with their own children or adopted ones to be considered as family, but two men or two women is not considered a family.”
The Malaysian government is stacked with opponents of LGBT+ rights.
In August, the country’s religious affairs minister Mujahid Yusof Rawa ordered two portraits of LGBT+ Malaysian activists be removed from an exhibition.
He said: “Society cannot accept LGBT being promoted because that is against norms, culture and religion.”
Malaysia’s Deputy Prime Minister Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail has ordered gay people to keep their sexuality secret, while
Deputy Health Minister, Dr Lee Boon Chye, meanwhile, claims that LGBT+ people suffer from an “organic disorder.”
Mahfuz Omar, Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, said LGBT+ people need to be helped to return to their “original identities” and that allowing people to be transgender would cause chaos in society.