UPDATE: Malaysia: Caning of Kartika deferred indefinitely pending review

Malaysia said Tuesday a caning sentence handed to 32 year old Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno for drinking beer would be reviewed because it was “too harsh” and could damage the nation’s reputation.
Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil said the chief judge of a state Shariah appeals court had ordered the sentence to be deferred pending the review. “The overriding view was that the sentence meted out was too harsh and is not commensurate with the offence,” she said.

“We are equally concerned not only for Kartika Sari, but also for the fact that this one particular case could have damaged the image of Malaysia in its fair and just implementation of the Shariah law.”

Prime Minister Najib Razak earlier Tuesday urged Kartika to appeal the sentence, which has generated unwelcome headlines and jeopardised Malaysia’s image as a moderate Muslim-majority nation.

“I believe the authorities concerned are sensitive on this matter and realise the implications of this case,” he said.

“I feel the person concerned should appeal to the state authorities and not be so willing to accept the punishment.”

But the mother of two, who has stared down religious authorities by challenging them to cane her in public, again refused and said that if the courts wanted to back down they should do so openly.

“I won’t file any appeal,” she said in a telephone interview with AFP. "Carry on and cane me, don’t waste my time.”

Kartika said she had sought the advice of a judge and a religious scholar in her family’s home state of Perak, who advised her to “calm down and keep quiet for the time being” while legal authorities discussed her fate.

Human rights group Amnesty International has urged Malaysia to abolish the “cruel and degrading punishment.”

The conservative Islamic party PAS said Tuesday however that religious authorities should not be deterred by pressure from civil society groups, and that the thrashing should go ahead immediately.


"I have known Kartika since she was a small girl," said one 64-year-old villager, Wan Alawiah.

"She is a good girl and I'm sad she will be caned but I ask myself why Kartika is being caned when a lot of other Muslims drink. I feel she has been victimized," she said.

Alcohol is widely available in Malaysia but is forbidden for Muslim Malays, who make up 60% of the population. They can be fined, caned, or jailed for up to three years but prosecutions are extremely rare.

Sources: New Straits Times/Channel News Asia

Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno was sentenced to six lashes and a fine of 5,000 ringgit ($1,400) for consuming alcohol. Shukarno, a 32-year-old model, pleaded guilty in the court in eastern Pahang state to a charge of drinking beer when Islamic authorities raided a hotel nightclub. Consuming alcohol is a religious offense in Malaysia only for Muslims, who make up nearly two-thirds of the population. Offenders are prosecuted in Shariah courts, which handle cases mainly related to family and moral issues for Muslims. Most offenders are fined, but the law also provides for a three-year prison term and caning. Shukarno was the only Muslim caught in the raid at the Pahang nightclub. Malaysian clubs and lounges typically serve alcohol but are not legally required to check if customers are Muslim before serving them, so the hotel nightclub operators were not charged with any offense.

The legal system in Malaysia is complex because the Malaysian state has accepted many of the inconsistencies of British colonial rule. There is in effect a two-track system. Non-Muslims (Malaysian and otherwise) are subject only to secular law. But Muslims (both Malaysian and otherwise) are subject to both secular law and shariah law. So Muslim Malaysians are subject to two sets of laws. So while Kartika can be caned under the shariah law, Malaysia's penal code prohibits caning of women. But the shariah law in Malaysia is under the jurisdiction of 13 separate states with their own interpretations. Only three states in Malaysia — Pahang, Perlis and Kelantan — impose caning for drinking alcohol. In the other 10 states it is punishable by only a fine.

Kartika caned would set a precedent that could subject the hundreds of thousands of Muslim Indonesian women working in Malaysia to the same punishment, at least in the three states where this particular interpretation of shariah law is in force. There are also many Muslim Singaporean women living in and visiting Malaysia, all of whom could suddenly be subject to this same law.

It has been reported by human rights organisations, according to Amnesty International, that undocumented migrants considered "illegals' in Malaysia are being punished through caning, by virtue of the penalties under the Immigration Act, and are in fact the primary victims of corporal punishment. The World Refugee Survey in 2005 placed Malaysia as one of the worst offenders of refugee rights, documenting cruel and inhumane treatment in Malaysia's prisons and detention camps. Often the punishment of caning, although discretionary, is handed down, as a deterrent. There are sets of demands now being put forward to the Malaysian government to stop caning as a form of torture altogether and to repeal the two sets of justice system. In 2006, The Malaysian Bar at its AGM passed a resolution declaring that the corporal punishment of whipping is cruel, inhumane and degrading and called for its abolishment.

'It is time for Malaysia to subscribe to Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” and reject corporal punishment altogether as a form of sentencing. We all have the ability to affect the consciousness of members of our family, community, nation and planet. The voices of those who support cruelty are loud, but the silent majority can make themselves heard.' (Renuka T. Balasubramaniam, member of the Human Rights Committee (HRC), Bar Council Malaysia)