In the News: LGBT Rights in Malaysia

Last week, the news from Malaysia that two women were convicted of same-sex relations and were publicly caned in front of a large crowd prompted international condemnation.

The decision was handed down by a sharīʿa court in the state of Terengganu. Under Malaysia’s Constitution, there are two parallel justice systems: the civil/criminal court system that applies to the whole country, and the sharīʿa court system that exists in each of the thirteen states. Each state in Malaysia has its own sharīʿa courts, which deal with matters relating to Islamic law in which the litigants are all Muslim. (Read more in our Country Profile.)

According to news reports, this was the first conviction for same-sex relations in the state (it should be noted that sodomy is also illegal under the country’s civil laws, dating back to colonial times). One local government official said that it was necessary for the caning to be public so that it would “serve as a lesson to society.” His comments reflected growing intolerance towards Malaysia’s LGBT community: last month, the country’s minister of Islamic affairs ordered the removal of two portraits of LGBT activists from a public photo exhibition, and a gang assault against a transgender woman also made international headlines.

For related reading, see SHARIAsource South Asia Editor Jeff Redding’s paper on transgender rights in Pakistan.