Malaysia: Quash ‘despicable’ caning sentence for five men accused of same-sex relations

The sentencing of five men to imprisonment and caning by the Selangor Syariah High Court on grounds of attempted sexual intercourse “against the order of nature” is an alarming attack on Malaysian LGBTI people which must be overturned immediately, said Amnesty International today.

“This vicious sentence handed down to five men for allegedly seeking consensual, same sex relations is a despicable attack on LGBTI people. Caning is absolutely prohibited under international law, and in Malaysia it is often carried out with such ferocity that it amounts to torture. It is deeply shocking to see it used at all – let alone for alleged acts that should never be illegal,” said Rachel Chhoa-Howard, Researcher on Malaysia at Amnesty International.

“The Malaysian authorities must quash this appalling sentence, as well as the charges against five more individuals scheduled later this month for the same alleged incident. They should also cease carrying out invasive operations to persecute LGBTI people, which are deeply discriminatory and a flagrant violation of the right to privacy.”

Caning is absolutely prohibited under international law, and in Malaysia it is often carried out with such ferocity that it amounts to torture
Rachel Chhoa-Howard, Researcher on Malaysia at Amnesty International

On 7 November, four individuals were sentenced to an RM4,800 fine, six months’ imprisonment and six strokes of the cane, while another individual was sentenced to a RM4,900 fine, seven months’ imprisonment and six strokes of the cane by the Selangor Syariah (Sharia) High Court.

They were convicted of “attempt of sexual intercourse against the order of nature” following a raid and arbitrary arrests made at a private event held last year. Five more individuals who pleaded not guilty await trial, which is scheduled for 19 November. A director from the Malaysian religious department, JAIS, said that after monitoring the men on messaging app WeChat, its officials conducted a sting operation involving more than 50 law enforcement officers on 16 people. According to Numan Afifi, President of PELANGI Campaign, an LGBTI organization in Malaysia, those arrested were not represented by a lawyer or provided with legal aid at the time they pleaded guilty to their charges, in violation of their right to a fair trial.

LGBTI people in Malaysia face discrimination and criminalisation under existing laws. Both common law and Syariah law systems criminalise same-sex relationships. Under the current government, LGBTI people have faced growing discrimination and persecution. In September 2018, two women were given six strokes of the cane on the orders of the Terengganu Syariah High Court for “sexual relations between women,” sparking international outcry. Caning is a form of cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment, which is prohibited absolutely under international law, and may amount to torture.

“Malaysia is increasingly unsafe for LGBTI people. Since this government came to power, promising human rights reforms, this is the second time the authorities have handed down this heinous punishment,” said Rachel Chhoa-Howard.

“As long as this draconian and cruel legislation remains on the books, LGBTI people will face grave risks in Malaysia. The Malaysian authorities must immediately reverse this dangerous trend, repeal all repressive and discriminatory laws against LGBTI people, outlaw cruel punishments, and ratify the UN Convention against Torture.”