"The warrant cannot be executed," Sharafuddin Zainal Ariffin, head of enforcement for the state of Pahang's Islamic Affairs Department, told reporters after Kartika was returned home.

"I'm afraid that people will make fun of the religion. Don't make my daughter a toy to play with"

Shukarno Mutalib,
Kartika's father

However officials later confirmed that the sentence had not been cancelled, but would be carried out after the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan, which ends in the third week of September.

"The punishment has not been cancelled, it was postponed because of Ramadan," said Pahang state Executive Councillor for Religion, Missionary Work and Unity, Mohamad Sahfri Abdul Aziz.

Kartika had earlier been taken into custody for transportation to a prison near Kuala Lumpur, where she had been expected to be lashed six times with a rattan cane.

But after moving a short distance the vehicle halted for at least half an hour before turning around and returning to the house.

Badaruddin Ahmad Bustami, an Islamic department official, said prison representatives had suddenly informed department authorities who took custody of Kartika that they "cannot accept her", without giving any reason.

'Speechless'

The former part-time model, who had earlier told Al Jazeera that she had accepted the sentence and asked to be caned in public as an example to other Muslims, had at first refused to get out of the van when told she was being released.

"I am speechless but I'm not getting out of the vehicle, I want to know what my status is. I want a black and white statement from them," she told reporters from inside the van.

Her father, Shukarno Mutalib, said the about-face could reflect badly on Islam.

"We had already accepted the punishment," he said. "My daughter wants the sentence to be done. I'm afraid that people will make fun of the religion.

"Don't make my daughter a toy to play with."

Human rights group Amnesty International had condemned the sentence, and Malaysian pressure group Sisters in Islam told Al Jazeera that the caning was "still unjust" despite the decision to postpone the sentence until after Ramadan.

"We are hopeful that the whipping sentence will be withdrawn," said Hamidah Merican, executive director of Sisters In Islam.

Nightclub raid

Kartika was convicted in July by a sharia court after state religious authorities caught her drinking alcohol when they raided a hotel nightclub.

The former nurse turned part-time model would have been the first woman in Malaysia to be caned by the authorities.

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

Alcohol is widely available in the country but is forbidden for the majority Muslim community, who make up just over half the population.

Muslims can be fined, jailed for up to three years or given six strokes of the cane for drinking alcohol, but prosecutions are extremely rare.