A single mother has been sentenced to 6 months in prison and 6 strokes of the rotan after she was arrested for doing sex work in the Malaysian state of Terengganu.
According to news reports, an enforcement team from the Terengganu Religious Affairs Department arrested the 30-year-old woman after finding her working from a hotel room on 17th September. The judge heard of the financial hardships faced by the woman, who has raised her 7-year-old child alone since her divorce only 5 months after giving birth. While she has worked part time making Batik, she pointed out that this income alone was not enough to support herself and her child. A crowdfunding campaign for the woman raised more than $6,500 since the sentencing in late September.
Judge Rosdi Harun responded harshly and expressed disappointment with the woman’s attitude in not showing any remorse throughout the proceeding. According to the Star Online, Judge Rosdi said he hoped the punishment would help the woman learn from her mistakes and spur her to improve herself. “Your punishment will give you time to reflect on your mistakes and repent,” he said. He went on to threaten anyone producing ”offensive writing” about his decision with a contempt of court charge.
Many individuals and organisations have expressed anger over the sentence, including Malaysian supermodel Alicia Amin, who spoke out in the sex worker’s defence on Twitter. Sisters in Islam condemned the decision as ”disappointing and frustrating” and the punishment as ”cruel, degrading and inhumane”. They also say the decision goes against ”normal sentencing guidelines”. Sisters of Islam were also vocal in their criticism of the decision to sentence two women public caning for pursuing a same sex relationship.
Dr Wan Azizah, the Malaysian Minister for Women, Family and Community Development, said “We respect and abide by the decision of the Shariah Court in this matter and agree that crimes should not go unpunished. We look at the circumstances surrounding any situation and find means of helping to rehabilitate the offender.
We do not wish to interfere in court matters but the welfare of women and children are my priority”.
The use of corporal punishment in Malaysia has been strongly criticised by international organisations, including Amnesty International. Two days after the sentencing, Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad pledged to ratify all remaining core UN instruments relating to human rights, which would include the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.