Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (CNN) -- For the first time, Malaysian authorities have caned three Muslim women under Islamic law for acts of adultery, the Malaysian national news agency Bernama said.
Home Minister Hishamuddin Hussein announced the canings Wednesday, saying the penalty was carried out February 9 at a women's prison near Kuala Lumpur.
The canings -- a punishment that persists across Malaysian society since the British colonial era of the 19th century -- have been denounced by one Amnesty International official, who says "caning is tantamount to torture."
But Hishamuddin said the punishment was carried out "to educate and make the offenders realize their mistakes and to return to the right path."
"It is hoped that the issue will not be wrongly interpreted to the extent of tarnishing the sanctity of Islam," he was quoted as saying. He also said the punishment did not cause any injury and that the women were remorseful and repented, Bernama reported.
The women were struck with a rattan cane. One woman was released Sunday after spending a month in prison, another will be released in the next few days, and the third will be released in June.
Malaysia, which considers itself a moderate Muslim country, has a dual-track justice system, in which Islamic courts operate alongside civil ones. Muslims make up about 60 percent of the country's population of 28 million.
Last year, a woman was sentenced to caning under Islamic law for drinking alcohol in public -- beer at a hotel bar -- and that case caused an uproar in the country. Malaysia forbids alcohol consumption by Muslims, even those who are visiting the country.
The caning sentence of Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno has been postponed while the issue is under review, and she said that if she were to be caned, she wanted the flogging to occur in public.
"Let's be transparent about it," said Kartika, a mother and part-time model. An Islamic court also fined her $1,400 for the act. She has pleaded guilty and paid the fine.
Lance Lattig, a researcher on Malaysia for the human rights group Amnesty International, told CNN that the vast majority of canings are applied to illegal immigrants by civil courts, but the latest examples indicate that sharia courts happen to be picking up on the practice.
"It's not Muslims on the march," he said. "It's the tip of the iceberg of the bigger problem."
No matter who does it, he says, the group considers caning to be "cruel, inhumane and degrading."