Malaysia caning case sparks debate

Kartika Shukarno, 32-year-old mother of two, faces punishment for drinking beer in nightclub.

    The case of a Muslim woman in Malaysia who is to be caned for drinking alcohol has created a public storm in the multi-ethnic Southeast Asian nation.

    If the punishment goes ahead as planned, Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno will become the first woman in Malaysia to be caned under Islamic law.

    But critics say the caning will damage Malaysia's international standing as a progressive and moderate Islamic country.

    Judge Datuk Ismail Yahya, one of Malaysia's chief sharia judges, added his voice to the debate on Sunday, cautioning that the punishment ran contrary to the law.

    "Kartika can sue. This is because her detention, and subsequently the whipping, is illegal," he was quoted by Malaysia's New Straits Times as saying.

    The 32-year-old mother of two was sentenced to six strokes by a court in Pahang state after pleading guilty to drinking alcohol at a hotel nightclub last year.

    She was also fined the equivalent of $1,420, but not given a prison sentence.

    "The only way for her to end up in jail is if she doesn't pay her fine. But from what I understand, she has paid it," Ismail was quoted as saying.

    "So, this means that there is no way that the whipping sentence can be executed."

    National debate 

    Islamic scholars have backed the sentence, and said it would be carried out with Kartika fully clothed and using a cane that is smaller and lighter than the heavy length of rattan used in criminal cases.

    Human-rights group Amnesty International has urged Malaysia not to carry out the sentence and to abolish what it called a "cruel and degrading punishment".

    Kartika, centre, has remained stoical
    about her punishment [AFP]
    Despite the domestic furore and the international concern, Kartika has expressed no intention of avoiding her punishment.

    In an interview at her home in a small Malay village in Kuala Kangsar earlier in the month: "Sometimes I feel sad and stressed as I have tarnished my  family's name. But now after spending time reading the Quran, I feel calm and am not afraid of being caned."

    Speaking to Al Jazeera, she confided that she had accepted the punishment at least partly to avoid what could be the two-year legal process of an appeal.

    The former hospital worker and part-time model is expected to turn herself over to authorities at a women's prison in Kajang, south of Malaysia's capital Kuala Lumpur, where the punishment will be carried out on Monday.

    Malaysia, which has large Chinese and Indian communities, uses a dual-track legal system where sharia courts, those following Islamic law, can try Muslims for religious and moral offences.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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