By Hyo-Jin Paik
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia– Caning of a Malaysian model and mother of two, Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno, who would have been the first women in Southeast Asia to be caned for drinking beer in public, has been delayed. Malaysia’s Islamic court postponed the caning until after Ramadan saying that the punishment was too harsh.
Kartika was arrested by Islamic morality police in December 2007 for drinking beer at a beach resort. 60% of Malaysia’s population of 27 million are Muslims, and they are prohibited from drinking alcohol. If found guilty of violating this Islamic law, such offense is punishable by up to three years in prison and caning.
Malaysia also has a dual-track justice system where Islamic courts operate alongside civil courts. Malays are subject to Islamic laws while Chinese and Indian minorities are not. Further, caning is used as a supplementary punishment for about 40 crimes in Malaysia, but caning is not a punishment for drinking alcohol in public in Malaysia’s civil courts.
Had the sentence been carried out, Kartika would have received six strokes with a rattan cane in addition to a $1,400 fine.
This case and Kartika’s plight has drawn widespread international attention regarding the use of Islamic laws in addition to raising questions as to whether radical Islam was starting to grow in a traditionally moderate Muslim country.
However, Minister Shahrizat Abdul Jalil of Women, Family and Community Development, who was once concerned that Kartika’s sentence “projected a ‘cruel image’ of Malaysia,” said, “I am impressed with, and commend, the chief judge’s wisdom for making the order of revision.”
Malaysia’s prime minister is urging Kartika to appeal since she is unique in that she has chosen to go through with her sentence. However, she has told reporters that she will not file an appeal. Her family is refusing to comment.
For more information, please see:
AP – Malaysian court puts caning of woman on hold – 25 August 2009
BBC – Malaysia to review caning woman – 25 August 2009
CNN – Malaysia postpones woman’s caning – 25 August 2009