24 August, 2009

Kartika's Caning Delayed until after Ramadan

Malaysian authorities Monday postponed caning a Muslim woman for drinking beer in a hotel bar, in a case which has drawn international attention to the spreading use of Islamic laws in this traditionally moderate, predominantly Muslim country.

Islamic authorities granted Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno a one-month reprieve to mark the holy fasting month of Ramadan.

The 32-year-old mother of two was earlier taken in a van from her Sungai Siput hometown to the Kajang Women's Prison for the punishment but she was brought back within 30 minutes after the Prison Department said there was a breakdown in communication and the sentence could not be carried out.

Pahang's Religious Affairs, Dakwah, Unity and NGOs Exco chairman Datuk Mohd Sahfri Abdul Aziz said the state religious department enforcement officers had issued a warrant of arrest for her to be sent to the Kajang Prison for the whipping.

“At the same time, they received a letter from the Attorney-General’s Chambers advising them to release Kartika temporarily as it was not advisable for her to undergo the punishment during the fasting month,” he said in Kuantan.

“The sentence remains. She will be caned after the fasting month. She has been released but only temporarily,” he added.

Kartika had earlier refused to leave the van that took her home as she wanted to know if it was a temporary reprieve.

“I will not come out without a black-and-white document explaining the status of what has happened. I am surprised and speechless,” Kartika told reporters.

And her father said the change of mind would ridicule Islam, which bans Muslims from consuming alcohol.

“The warrant cannot be executed," Sharafuddin Zainal Ariffin, head of enforcement for Pahang's Islamic Affairs Department, told reporters after Kartika Sari returned to her house.

Both Kartika, a Malaysian who has two children and who had worked as a nurse in Singapore, and her father had called for the sentence to be carried out quickly and in public.

“We had already accepted the punishment,” Shukarnor Mutalib, told reporters.

The severity of the sentence meted out to Kartika – she would have been the first Malaysian woman to be caned – caught many Malaysians by surprise. The 32-year-old mother of two was sentenced to six lashes with a rattan cane after being caught drinking beer at a hotel in Pahang state in 2007.

Kartika's sentence has triggered a debate about whether caning was too harsh and humiliating a punishment for a multiracial country such as Malaysia. Political analysts, meanwhile, said the sentence points to the growing role of Islam in the country's political battles as the ruling National Front and an Islamist opposition party are compete to present themselves as protectors of the faith.

Meanwhile, Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno, who was sentenced by the Kuantan Syariah Court to receive caning for drinking beer at a public place, today lodged a police report on the "confusion" over her sentencing.

She made the report at the Kuala Kangsar district police headquarters at 12.30pm to state that she had not run away from the sentence.

The confusion arose while she was being taken to Kajang Prison in Selangor today to be remanded for a week before receiving the sentence, but was released 30 minutes later by officers from the Pahang Religious Affairs Department (Jaip).

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