By Brooke Sopelsa

The scheduled caning of two women in Malaysia for same-sex conduct could exacerbate the already unsafe climate for the country’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, according to human-rights advocates.

The sentencing is "the latest blow to Malaysia’s LGBT community, which had hoped for better protection under the country’s new government,” Graeme Reid, director of the LGBTQ-rights program at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement shared with NBC News. “This prosecution and punishment will only fuel the recent wave of homophobia and transphobia in Malaysia.”

Earlier this month, the two women, ages 22 and 32, pleaded guilty to violating Islamic shariah laws forbidding lesbian sex — known as musahaqah —and were sentenced to six strokes and a 3,300 ringgit ($806) fine, according to the Malay-language newspaper Sinar Harian. Human Rights Watch said the caning has been scheduled for Aug. 28.

Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and other human-rights groups called on Malaysia to ban the punishment of caning, which they say violates international human rights laws.

“Malaysia’s new government should stand against discrimination and brutality and foster a culture of tolerance and equality,” Reid said. “As part of that effort, it should seek to abolish all laws against same-sex conduct and end the cruel practice of caning once and for all.”

The LGBTQ community is routinely persecuted in Muslim-majority Malaysia, where it is seen as a threat to conservative values, and activists say intolerance toward sexual and gender minorities has increased in the country in recent years.

This month, authorities removed portraits of two LGBTQ activists from a public photography exhibition, saying they promoted LGBTQ activities. In February, a Malaysian newspaper article detailing how to identify LGBTQ individuals sparked outrage on social media.


Reuters contributed.