Public caning: PAS ulama slammed over ‘free publicity’ remark

Two women in Terengganu were publicly caned for attempting to have same-sex relations. PAS Dewan Ulama chief Mahfodz Mohamed has said the punishment was free publicity for the state.

PETALING JAYA: Several NGOs have taken a PAS ulama to task for saying the recent public caning of two women who pleaded guilty to attempting to have same-sex relations last month in Terengganu was free publicity for the state.

Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) communications officer Tan Heang Lee said it was appalling for PAS Dewan Ulama chief Mahfodz Mohamed to say that the public caning of the two women could be referred to as a spectacle and “free marketing”.

Mahfodz had made the remark during the party’s 57th muktamar in Kuala Terengganu yesterday.

“This is exploitative, cruel and inhumane. The caning has drawn international attention to Malaysia for the wrong reasons and has tarnished Malaysia’s image.

“Do we want to be known as a country that publicly flogs its citizens?” Tan told FMT.

She said WAO denounced all forms of caning as inhumane and called for a moratorium on corporal punishment.

Tan was asked to comment on the remarks by Mahfodz, who also said the caning had opened the eyes of many people with some praising them and seeing the beauty of Islam.

Sisters in Islam (SIS) meanwhile said it was disgraceful for an ulama to say that the media attention received was “free publicity” for the PAS-led state and to ignore “the trauma and humiliation experienced by the two women”.

“The fact that the ulama feels a sense of pride in broadcasting the ‘scandals’ of others is directly in contradiction with what the Quran promotes [24:19]. God also dislikes people who scorn and mocks others [104:1].

“We echo the sentiments of our Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad that the ordeal in fact reflects poorly on Islam as a religion of compassion and mercy,” SIS communications manager Majidah Hashim said.

The women, aged 22 and 32, were caned six times before a panel of judges in the Terengganu shariah court earlier this month, witnessed by the women’s families, representatives from legal bodies and NGOs, and members of the media.

It marked the state’s first shariah court verdict on same-sex relations.

Islamic enforcement officers in Terengganu had found the two Muslim women attempting to engage in sexual acts in a car during a patrol in April.

They were charged under the shariah law known as musahaqah – which bans lesbian sex – and sentenced to six strokes of the cane and a fine of RM3,300 each after pleading guilty.

The Terengganu government had defended the punishment from critics, saying they should not make assumptions without witnessing the form and method of carrying out the sentence.