'People are afraid': Gay caning stokes fear in Malaysia's LGBT community

Malaysia is accused of cracking down on LGBT people in the country, as hopes that Mahathir's new government would be more inclusive have stuttered following a series of events that have dismayed the LGBT community and their allies.

(CNN)Two gay women have been caned in Malaysia amid a worsening climate for LGBT individuals in the Muslim-majority Southeast Asian nation.

The punishment of the two unnamed women took place Monday morning in Terengganu, a state to the east of the capital, Kuala Lumpur, according to rights campaigner Thilaga Sulathireth. The state is governed by Sharia law.
Each woman was lashed six times after being caught attempting to have sex in a parked car. They were also required to pay a fine of 3,300 ringgit ($800).
    Sulathireth, who witnessed the caning along with around 100 other people, told CNN that it was a "public caning to all intents and purposes," and that one of the judges had said it was the first time a punishment of this kind had been open to the public.
    Monday's punishment shows the religious right "flexing their muscles and making clear that the laws against LGBT activity will be enforced in their state," said Linda Lakhdhir, a legal adviser in the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch. Homosexual sex is illegal throughout Malaysia under colonial era criminal law.
    The punishment follows a raid last month on one of Kuala Lumpur's only gay clubs, which saw around 20 men charged for "illicit behavior," and a brutal attack on a trans woman in a city close to the capital.
    "It's very uncomfortable, (people are) feeling very oppressed right now. People are afraid because this is the first time that two women are being caned for sexual acts," said Numan Afifi of LGBT activist group the Pelangi Campaign.
    The punishment had not previously been used in the state of Terengganu for female homosexuality.
    "We don't know what's going to happen in the future. That's the general feeling," said Numan.