KUALA LUMPUR: Two Malaysian women have been sentenced to caning after they admitted having sex in contravention of strict Islamic laws, an official said Tuesday, sparking outrage from rights groups.

Members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community have increasingly faced pressure in the Muslim-majority country in recent years, with officials frequently accused of targeting them.

The women, aged 22 and 32, were arrested in April by Islamic enforcement officers after they were found in a car in a public square in northern Terengganu state, one of the most conservative areas of the country.

They were brought before an Islamic court on Sunday and admitted to breaking a Sharia law that forbids sexual relations between women.

They were sentenced to six strokes of the cane each and fined 3,300 ringgit ($800), Mohamad Khasmizan Abdullah, a prosecutor with the Terengganu religious department told AFP.

“This is a serious case. The prosecutors urged the court to impose the maximum sentence,” Khasmizan said.

He said if the sentence was carried out, they would be the first women to be caned in Terengganu for breaking Islamic laws. They are free on bail and their sentence is set to be carried out on August 28, although they have the right to appeal.

Caning is conducted out of public view in Malaysia.

Malaysia operates a dual-track legal system and Islamic courts can handle religious and family matters, as well as cases such as adultery.

Malaysian Muslims, who make up over 60 per cent of the country’s 32 million inhabitants, have traditionally practised a tolerant brand of Islam but concerns have been growing in recent years that attitudes are becoming more conservative.

A statement released by rights groups Justice for Sisters, and endorsed by other campaign groups, criticised the women’s sentence as “torture”.

“Criminalisation of consensual sex between adults is a gross violation of human rights,” it said.