PETALING JAYA: Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad today criticised the public caning of two Muslim women convicted of attempting same-sex relations, in the first statement by the Cabinet on the controversial issue.
He said the punishment, the first public caning in Malaysia, had painted the religion in a bad light, portraying it as ruthless and focused on humiliation.
His comments followed a backlash against the caning by individuals and NGOs who said it was against human rights.
In a video posted on his Facebook page, Mahathir said his Cabinet viewed the punishment meted out by the Terengganu Shariah Court as not reflective of the true image of Islam.
He also asked that a lighter sentence be given for such cases in the future.
“This is the first case for them. Usually, when it is the first case, advice should be given, not caning so much so that the matter is known worldwide.
“This gives a bad impression of Islam.”
The two women, who pleaded guilty to attempting to have same-sex relations in a car in April, were caned six times each at the Terengganu Shariah High Court on Monday.
The sentence, the first for such an offence in the country, was witnessed by more than 100 people including family members, lawyers and members of the media.
The Terengganu government has since defended the court’s decision for a public caning, saying critics should not make assumptions without witnessing the form and method of carrying out the sentence.
Satiful Bahari Mamat, the state executive councillor for shariah implementation, education and higher studies, also said the caning was different from the harsher whipping imposed by civil courts.