Malaysia: ICJ condemns public caning of two women for alleged same sex relations

The ICJ today condemned the public caning of two women, a punishment imposed upon them by the Terengganu High Court after conviction on charges of ‘attempting to have sexual intercourse’.

The ICJ called on the Government of Malaysia to immediately abolish the practice of caning as it constitutes a form of cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment prohibited under international human rights law and standards.

Furthermore, it also called on the Government to ensure that its laws, policies and practices at the local, state, and federal levels are in full compliance with its international legal obligations, including under the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

On 3 September 2018, two women, aged 23 and 33, were publicly caned in front of a hundred people in Terengganu, a coastal state of Malaysia, located northeast of Kuala Lumpur.

The two women were convicted under Section 30 of the Syariah Criminal Offences (Terengganu) Enactment 2001, for the crime of ‘Musahaqah’ (sexual relations between female persons).

“This punishment is a clear violation of Malaysia’s obligations to prevent, prohibit and prosecute all forms of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The Government of Malaysia should immediately abolish the practice of corporal punishment, which has been condemned by international authorities such as the UN Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on torture,” said Emerlynne Gil, ICJ’s Senior International Legal Adviser.

“It is equally deplorable that Malaysia continues to criminalize consensual same sex relations. The criminalization of private consensual sexual activities – whatever the sex, gender identity and sexual proclivities of those involved, and whatever the actual sexual practices – violates international human rights law. It also undermines women’s enjoyment of their rights to privacy, personal integrity, and equality,” she added.

The Human Rights Committee has said that criminalizing private sexual acts between consenting adults constitutes an arbitrary interference with privacy and cannot be justified.

It has also observed in a number of Concluding Observations that the criminalization of private consensual sexual activities between adults of the same sex violates the prohibition of discrimination, and the right of equality before the law.

The ICJ also notes that early this year, the CEDAW Committee recommended to Malaysia to “take effective measures to ensure that civil law and Syariah law are in full compliance with the provisions of the Convention at local, state, and federal levels” so as to guarantee the rights of all women throughout the country.

The ICJ calls on the Government of Malaysia to abide by its obligations under international law and follow through with its commitment to human rights, non-discrimination and equality by abolishing the sentence of caning and the criminalization of consensual same sex relations in the country.


Emerlynne Gil, ICJ Senior International Legal Adviser, t: +66 840923575, e: emerlynne.gil(a)


On 8 April 2018, religious state authorities arrested the two women who were in a car and accused them of preparing to ‘commit sexual acts’, which is an offense in the State of Terengganu, under the Syariah Criminal Offences (Terengganu) Enactment 2001. The women pleaded guilty to the offence without being represented by a lawyer and did not appeal their case.

On 12 August 2018, the two women pleaded guilty and were sentenced by the Terengganu Shariah to a fine of RM3,300 ($800 USD) and six strokes of caning for attempting to have sexual intercourse.

This is the first case of caning of women for ‘Musahaqah’ (sexual relations between female persons) crime and its attempt in Malaysia and it marks a steady decline in Malaysia’s commitment to protect the rights of its sexual minorities and the members of the LGBTIQA community.

In Malaysia’s Criminal Procedure Code, under Federal law, it states that

“No sentence of whipping shall be executed by installments, and none of the following persons shall be punishable with whipping: (a) females;”

Malaysia’s Federal Constitution provides that Islamic law falls under the matters of State law, with the exception of the Federal States.

It is concerning that the Syariah legal system in Malaysia continues to carry out caning in a manner that is discriminatory against women, and women sexual minorities, as seen in the 2010 case, where three women were found guilty of ‘illicit sex’ by the Kuala Lumpur Syariah Court, as well as the continuing use of Syariah legal enactments to harass, intimidate and prosecute the transgender community in Malaysia.


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