A judge at an Islamic appeals court has ordered the review of a contested caning sentence imposed on a Malaysian woman for drinking beer in public. Her punishment was earlier postponed until after the holy month of Ramadan.
A Malaysian Islamic appeals court judge has ordered a review of the caning sentence for Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno, who was caught drinking alcohol. The move has raised hopes that the 32-year-old mother of two could be spared the punishment.
Women's Minister Shahrizat Jalil told reporters that the chief appeals judge for the Islamic courts in the eastern state of Pahang had deferred the caning pending a review of the sentence handed down by a lower court.
Malaysian religious officials had already granted a Ramadan reprieve to the part-time model sentenced to six cane strokes for drinking beer in public.
Kartika Shukarno, a hospital worker, was abruptly released just hours before her sentence was due to be carried out.
"I am speechless," Kartika told reporters on Monday, adding that the Islamic officials had not told her whether she would be caned later. "I want to know what my status is. I want a black and white statement from [the authorities]."
Sahfri Abdul Aziz, a legislator from Pahang in charge of religious affairs, told state media that the punishment had been suspended on the order of the attorney general until after the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. “However, the sentence will remain the same,” he declared.
'We are Muslims, we will follow the rules'
Kartika Shukarno was arrested in December 2007 during a police raid in a bar, where she admitted to having drunk three beers. She was sentenced a few weeks ago by an Islamic court to six cane strokes – with a thin bamboo cane while fully dressed – and a fine of 5,000 ringgit (1,400 dollars). The 32-year-old mother of two surprised authorities and the public by deciding not to appeal and saying she accepted the sentence.
“We are not feeling sad. We are Muslims and I agree she has to be caned,” Kartika’s father, Shukarno Mutalib, told Agence France Presse. “She has already pleaded guilty. We will follow the rules,” he added.
“I never cried when I was sentenced by the judge. I told myself, alright then, let’s get on with it,” Kartika herself told Reuters.
Despite the Malaysian prime minister’s call for her to appeal her sentence, she asked for the caning to be held in public, to act as an “example” for other Muslims. Malay authorities turned down the request.
'Cruel and degrading punishment'
Although Kartika appears to accept her punishment, many of her fellow citizens do not and the sentence has sparked controversy in Malaysia and abroad. “This would be the first time caning has been meted out by the Islamic courts. We are all shocked and strongly oppose caning male or women offenders,” Ragunath Kesavan, the president of the Malaysian Bar Council told British daily the Times. Human rights group Amnesty International has urged Malaysia to abolish the "cruel and degrading punishment".
A senior government official, who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity, suggested the reprieve could be a step towards burying the whole affair. "Leave it to the sharia court, they know how to decide. The court has the power to revise the sentence and there are also laws that allow the sultan to pardon her," the official said.
Malaysia, a multicultural country with large Chinese and Indian communities, projects an image of moderation to foreign tourists and businesses. However, it imposes stern Islamic justice on its Muslim population. Alcohol is served to members of other religions at the country’s tourist bars and hotels but is prohibited for Muslims.
The country has a dual-track legal system, with both secular courts and Islamic sharia courts. The latter only try Muslims, for religious and moral offences. Their verdicts cannot be overturned by national secular courts.
Date created : 2009-08-25