Two women, who pleaded guilty to attempting same-sex relations were given six strokes of the cane at the Sharia High Court of north-eastern state Terengganu in Malaysia on Monday.
It was the first conviction for same-sex relations and the first time a caning had been carried out in public in Terengganu, Satiful Bahri Mamat, a member of the state executive council, told Reuters news agency.
The women, who were dressed in white headscarves and clothing, sat on stools facing the judges while female prison officers struck their backs using light rattan canes, according to the Associated Press.
The women, aged 22 and 32, were caned in the Sharia courtroom in Terengganu around 10 am local time (7.30 am Indian Standard Time), The Guardian reported. In addition to the civil court system, the constitution... The state's Sharia high court sentenced them August 12 to six strokes of a cane for "sexual relations between women" and fined them the equivalent of about $800.
Under Malaysian civil law the caning of women is prohibited, but it is permitted under Islamic law in some states that have adopted concurrent sharia laws.
Rights groups had previously urged the Malaysian government to drop the case, which they argued constituted torture under worldwide human rights law.
A reformist alliance took power in Malaysia at historic May elections, fuelling hopes that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people might face less discrimination in a country where authorities have routinely targeted them in the past.
"It did not look forceful and we are satisfied because proper procedure was followed in which the caning did not break the skin", said association deputy president Fazru Anuar Yusof.
The case comes amid concerns around growing intolerance toward the LGBT community in Malaysia in recent weeks.
Earlier, two women's rights groups slammed the Kuala Terengganu Shariah High Court for publicly caning the women today, describing the punishment as "a travesty and a grave miscarriage of justice".
The women were supposed to have been caned on Aug 28 but had their sentence postponed to yesterday. Linda Lakhdhir, legal adviser in the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch, told CNN that the punishment was the religious rights way of "flexing their muscles and making clear that the law against LGBT activity will be enforced in their state".
"Sexual acts between two consenting adults should not be criminalised, let alone punished with whipping", Women's Aid Organisation said.
While Malaysian Muslims tend to practice a moderate form of Islam, more conservative Islam is on the rise, thought to be a result of increasing influence and investment from Saudi Arabia.
The Islamic affairs minister has spoken out against homosexuals and ordered pictures of LGBT activists to be removed from a public exhibition, while a transgender woman was brutally attacked in the southern state of Negeri Sembilan.