Indiana Daily Student

Caning sentence revoked

A Muslim woman’s caning sentence for drinking beer has been commuted unexpectedly, ending a high-profile case that raised questions about Islamic laws intruding into personal matters in Malaysia.

She received a letter Wednesday from the Pahang state Islamic department informing her the state’s sultan had decided to spare her the caning and instead ordered three weeks of community service.

The order is likely to cool a fiery debate over whether Islamic laws are intruding into people’s private lives in the Muslim-majority country, which has long been seen as a model of a moderate and progressive Islamic society. Many had condemned the punishment, saying it shows conservative Islamists are gaining influence over the justice system.

Kartika was sentenced last July to six cane strokes after being caught drinking beer by morality police at a beach restaurant while drinking beer, which is forbidden by Islamic laws.

She pled guilty and did not appeal her sentence, but the punishment was halted at the last minute following an uproar in the media and among rights activists.
The former model said she felt “tortured” waiting to be caned and now feels the punishment should have been carried out.

Three other Muslim women were caned this year for having sex out of wedlock, becoming the first Muslim women to be caned. Their cases did not draw as much attention because the caning was kept secret until after it was done. Subsequently, the women appeared before local media and said they deserved the punishment.

It was not clear what prompted Sultan Ahmad Shah to commute the sentence, but he could have been influenced by the negative publicity that Malaysia received after the caning sentencing.

The sultan is the guardian of Islam in the state and its titular head. Most of Malaysia’s 13 states are ruled by sultans who usually play a ceremonial role in governance but have the power to rule in Islamic matters.

Officials had said the caning would have differed from corporal punishment administered to male criminals under secular laws - a thick rattan stick on bare buttocks, breaking the skin and leaving lifelong scars. Kartika’s punishment under Islamic laws would have been delivered with a thin cane on the back with her clothes on.

The sultan’s commutation of the sentence followed a meeting last month between Kartika and the Pahang crown prince to discuss her fate after the caning was delayed. It was unclear what occurred at the meeting.

Malaysia follows a dual-track justice system. Shariah laws apply to Muslims in all personal matters. Non-Muslims — Chinese, Indians, Sikhs and other minorities — are covered by civil laws and are free to drink.

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