THE first Malaysian women to be caned under Islamic law for having illicit sex have reportedly said they regretted their actions and welcomed the punishment.
The three women, whose identities were not revealed, gave the first account of the caning which took place earlier this month, drawing condemnation from human rights activists and applause from some Muslim groups.
"On the day I was caned, I was scared but, at the same time, I knew I deserved it and was willing to take the punishment," said one of the women, a 25-year-old who went by the name of "Ayu".
She told the New Straits Times that the punishment - administered while they were fully clothed and by a female prison officer wielding a thin rattan cane - did not hurt.
"Those out there who are having sex before marriage should really consider the consequences and not only think about momentary pleasure," she told the daily
The three women said they turned themselves in to religious authorities after being wracked by guilt over having pre-marital sex.
"Ayu" has a one-year-old daughter with her boyfriend, who she plans to marry, and the other two women also gave birth out of wedlock.
Human rights campaigners, who were stunned by the caning of the three women which had not been foreshadowed by authorities, were sceptical over the comments published in several Malaysian newspapers.
"These three women are just normal people who have been surrounded by all kinds of legal mumbo jumbo and pressured into agreeing to be caned," one activist said, declining to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Islamic authorities triggered uproar last year when they sentenced mother-of-two Kartika SariShukarno to six strokes of the cane after she was caught drinking beer in a hotel nightclub.
Her case, which was to have been the first time a woman was caned under Islamic law in Malaysia, is still under review after she was given a last-minute reprieve amid intense media coverage.
Malaysia's Bar Council has said it was "shocking" that the caning of the three women went ahead while the Kartika case was unresolved.
Legal commentators have said that the Islamic courts -- which operate in parallel to the civil system in Malaysia -- are becoming increasingly confident, threatening Malaysia's status as a secular nation.
The Sharia courts have been clamping down on rarely enforced religious laws that apply to Muslim Malays who dominate the population - including a ban alcohol and sex between unmarried couples.