Woman facing caning wants it done publicly

(The Straits Times) KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 20 — A Muslim woman who has been sentenced to six strokes of the rotan for drinking beer has asked for the punishment to be carried out in public, not in a prison in Selangor.

Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno, who is set to be caned next week, said she should be punished in public if the Islamic court had intended for it to be a lesson to all Muslims.

But religious experts, including the Malaysian Syariah Lawyers Association and the Islamic adviser to the Prime Minister, said public flogging is unnecessary, as long as the offender has learnt her lesson.

“I think the punishment is fair, but it should be done in public for everyone to see so that people will learn. Let's be transparent,” Kartika, 32, told The Straits Times in a phone interview yesterday.

The Pahang Syariah High Court yesterday issued a warrant for the mother of two to be remanded in Kajang prison from next Monday.

She is to be caned within seven days of the remand at the Selangor prison. This means the punishment will be carried out during the fasting month, which starts on Saturday.

The punishment will make her the first woman in Malaysia to be caned.

Kartika, a Malaysian who is married to a Singaporean, was sentenced to six strokes and fined RM5,000 for drinking in a hotel in Cherating, Pahang, while on holiday with friends two years ago. She pleaded guilty and paid the fine.

Under Malaysian syariah law, an offender who drinks alcohol can receive up to six strokes, be fined up to RM5,000 or jailed for three years.

Being caned under the Islamic law in Malaysia is unlike the civil corporal punishment.

Under the syariah law, a male offender stands, while a female offender sits with her feet tucked in, during the caning. The officer must not raise his hand above his shoulder when caning the woman, so that the caning strength is lighter.

In civil punishment, women are exempted from flogging. For men who get whipped, they are hit on the buttocks with a rotan that breaks their bare skin and draws blood with each stroke.

Kartika will not be caned in public as the punishment must be held within the law, explained Pahang state syariah deputy public prosecutor Saiful Idham Sahimi.

“The caning cannot be done according to their liking. The government must first gazette a public place if a punishment is to be carried out there,” he said.

“At the moment, Kajang prison is the most suitable place, and the Prison Department will mete out the punishment.”

Public caning is not something that the government may want to introduce, as it attracts negative publicity for the country.

Women politicians and non-governmental organisations have criticised the punishment for Kartika. Some religious experts also argue that the sentence is too harsh for a first-time offender.

Datuk Abdullah Mohd Zain, the religious adviser to the Prime Minister, argued that the sentence is mild compared with the 40 strokes of the rotan during the Prophet's time.

“We are just trying to teach Muslims that drinking is bad. Why does it matter whether the caning is done in the open or behind closed doors?” he told The Straits Times.