Earlier this week, it was reported that two women in Malaysia had been caned after they were found to be in a same-sex relationship.

Homosexuality is illegal in Malaysia, and the Human Rights Watch reports that discrimination against LGBTQ people is “pervasive” in the country.

The women, aged 22 and 32, were caned six times each in a courtroom in Terengganu state, and the punishment was reportedly witnessed by family members and government officials.

The punishment was condemned by LGBTQ rights activists, as well as by MPs in the country. One MP, Charles Santiago, wrote: “We need to stop targeting the LGBT community. We need to stop invading their privacy. We need to stop abusing them. We need to grow up as a society and learn to embrace diversity.”

Related: Malaysian authorities are attacking transgender rights – here’s how you can help stop it

And now, Malaysia’s prime minister, Mahathir Bin Mohamad, says that the two women shouldn’t have been caned, as the punishment “does not reflect the ideals of justice and compassion of Islam.”

In a video translated by Channel NewsAsia, Mohamad adds: “As this was the first case for them, they should’ve been given advice and not punished.

“The cabinet is of the opinion that the circumstances of each case should be considered and how we can, under Islam, hand out punishments that are lighter while at the same time give advice and counsel to the parties.

“We need to show that Islam is not a ruthless religion that shames people with harsh punishments.”

Back in April, a contest was launched in a Malaysian university which sought to ‘help’ LGBTQ people become straight. One of the founders of the contest, Abdul Hadi Radzi claimed that they were trying to “educate people.”

“This is our view to correct LGBT. Not to persecute. Not to condemn them,” he said.

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