Malaysian Muslim lesbian couple caned in public punishment

Corporal punishment, while still practiced, is rare in Malaysia. (File/Shutterstock)
Updated 05 September 2018
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Malaysian Muslim lesbian couple caned in public punishment

  • The punishment under Islamic laws isn’t painful or harsh and was meant to educate the women so they will repent
  • More than 100 people witnessed the caning in a Shariah courtroom

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia: Two Malaysian Muslim women convicted under Islamic laws of attempting to have sex were caned Monday in a rare public whipping that was slammed by lawmakers and rights activists as a form of torture.
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. More than 100 people witnessed the caning in a Shariah courtroom in northeast Terengganu state, they said.
Muslim Lawyers’ Association deputy president Abdul Rahim Sinwan said unlike caning under civil laws, the punishment under Islamic laws isn’t painful or harsh and was meant to educate the women so they will repent. The women, dressed in white headscarves and clothing, didn’t cry or scream but “showed remorse,” he said.
“Repentance is the ultimate aim for their sin,” he said.
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.
“Caning is a form of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and may amount to torture,” Amnesty International Malaysia said in a statement. “People should not live in fear because they are attracted to people of the same sex. The Malaysian authorities must immediately repeal repressive laws, outlaw torturous punishments and ratify the UN Convention Against Torture.”
Malaysia follows a dual-track justice system. Nearly two-thirds of Malaysia’s 31 million people are Muslims, who are governed by Islamic courts in family, marriage and personal issues. The two unidentified women were discovered by Islamic officials in April and sentenced last month by a Shariah court to six strokes of a cane and a fine after pleading guilty.
Thilaga Sulathireh, from the group Justice for Sisters who witnessed the caning, said she was shocked by the public spectacle. She said Malaysian laws were inconsistent because civil laws prohibit corporal punishment against female prisoners.
“It’s a regression of human rights in Malaysia. It’s not about the severity of the caning. Corporal punishment is a form of torture regardless of your intention,” she said.
Lawmakers also joined in the chorus of condemnation against the public caning.
“Islam teaches us to look after the dignity of every human being. And that mercy is preferable to punishment,” opposition lawmaker Khairy Jamaluddin tweeted.
Lawmaker Charles Santiago said the government must repeal all laws that criminalize homosexuality.
“And this is because we really need to make sure that no one is publicly caned let alone because of their sexuality,” he said.
Malaysia is seen as a moderate and stable Muslim-majority country, but Islamic conservatism is on the rise.
The caning occurred amid a climate of fear and discrimination against Malaysia’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. A few weeks ago, authorities removed the portraits of two LGBT rights activists from a public exhibition. Malaysia religious minister Mujahid Yusuf later said the government doesn’t support the promotion of LGBT culture. A transgender woman was also beaten up by a group of people in a southern state this month.


Olympic dreams: Palestinian swim team braves pollution to train in Gaza waters

Updated 22 October 2018
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Olympic dreams: Palestinian swim team braves pollution to train in Gaza waters

  • Conditions are far from perfect; the waves make serious training difficult and they have little equipment
  • ‘We lack even the simplest equipment such as goggles and swimsuits’

BEIT LAHIA, Palestinian Territories: On one of the world’s most polluted coastlines, 30 young Palestinians dive head first into the sea off the Gaza Strip, their minds filled with dreams of Olympic glory.
Aged between 11 and 16, they make up a rare swimming club in the Palestinian enclave, and perhaps its only mixed-sex one.
Coach Amjad Tantish talks through a warm-up before they race from the trash-strewn beach into the sea as he continues to bark instructions.
Conditions are far from perfect; the waves make serious training difficult and they have little equipment.
But Tantish explained that there are no free public swimming pools in the Gaza Strip, so they had to brave the sea.
“We lack even the simplest equipment such as goggles and swimsuits,” he said. “We don’t have any funding.”
The Mediterranean hugs the entire 40-kilometer western border of the Gaza Strip, but almost no one enters its waters.
The desperate shortage of energy and lack of sanitation infrastructure mean around 100 million liters of poorly treated sewage are pumped into the sea every day, according to the United Nations.
In the worst spots along the shore the sea is tinted brown.
More than 95 percent of tap water is polluted, and water-related diseases are the primary cause of child mortality in Gaza, according to the World Health Organization.
The UN says the situation has come about mainly because of Israel’s crippling land and sea blockade of Gaza, warning recently the enclave is “imploding.”
Israel says the measures are necessary to isolate Hamas, the group that runs Gaza and with which it has fought three wars since 2008.
It accuses the group of squandering international aid on arms and fortifications.
Israel has seized dozens of diving suits and other swimming aids it says Hamas was seeking to smuggle into Gaza for military purposes.
For those still willing to get wet, environmental experts say the water near Beit Lahia in northern Gaza has the lowest rates of pollution.
And so the team train there a few times a week, helping to fuel their dreams.
Tantish says the squad dreams of competing in the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, though he knows that is improbable.
Even getting a visa to leave Gaza via Israel is an almost insurmountable hurdle.
“We have many opportunities to participate in outdoor training camps and in Arab competitions, but travel is a major obstacle,” he said.
The Palestine Olympic Committee sent only six athletes to the 2016 Games.
Four of those, including the two swimmers, were invited to attend despite not meeting the minimum requirements.
But even they had regular access to pools and neither were based in Gaza.
Abdul Rahman, 15, said he hopes to become a “hero and achieve first place in international competitions.”
Mixed-gender activities are rare in conservative Gaza, particularly in the sporting arena.
The girls mostly wear long black swim trousers and red blouses, with their heads largely uncovered.
Tantish, 42, said in the past it “was not an acceptable idea, we faced many difficulties and troubles.”
Now, he said, attitudes have changed.
“Families drop their daughters off to practice swimming and the proportion of women reached 30 percent.”
Rania, 32, was walking with her husband along the beach but stopped to watch the swimming.
“I don’t think being religious stops our girls from being like other people or from having this beautiful ambition,” she said.
Most of the girls joining this year decided to get involved at their own initiative, Tantish said.
Ruqiya, 14, said she loves the atmosphere at the club.
“I started learning to swim three years ago and recently I joined the team. My family supports me and I train and play with my friends in the sea.”
She dreams of becoming a professional: “We want a large swimming pool specially to train for the Olympics.”