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Beer-drinking Muslim woman's caning to go ahead

world Updated: Sep 29, 2009 11:29 IST

AP
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A Muslim woman sentenced to be caned for drinking beer wants to quickly get the punishment over with now that it has been confirmed by an Islamic appeals court judge, her father said on Tuesday.

If the punishment is carried out, Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno, a 32-year-old mother of two, would become the first Muslim woman to be caned in Malaysia, where about 60 per cent of the 28 million people are Muslims.

The case has ignited a debate in this moderate Muslim-majority country whether conservative Islamists, who advocate harsh punishments, are gaining influence over the justice system and whether Islamic laws should intrude into people's private lives. According to local media reports Monday, chief Judge Abdul Hamid Abdul Rahman of Pahang state's Shariah courts decided to uphold the sentence passed by the state high court on Kartika after a one-month review of the case.

No date was immediately set for the caning. Kartika's father, Shukarno Abdul Muttlib, 60, told The Associated Press that while the family had yet to be informed of the judge's latest decision, his daughter "accepts the punishment" and would like it to be carried out sooner rather than later. "We obey the law," he said, adding that "it's a challenge ... (but) it's the way of my life."

Pahang court and religious department officials declined to talk about the case Tuesday. Others could not immediately be reached.

Kartika, a former model and nurse, was sentenced in July to six strokes of the cane and a fine of 5,000 ringgit ($1,400) for drinking beer in December 2007 at a beach resort in violation of Islamic laws.

Islam prohibits Muslims from drinking alcohol. Kartika, who pleaded guilty, refused to appeal her sentence and was on the verge of being caned on August 24. But the punishment was halted at the last minute following an uproar in the media and among rights activists.

Instead, the government asked the Shariah High Court Appeals Panel in Kuantan, the capital of Pahang, to review the verdict. Judge Abdul Hamid, who headed the panel, ruled that the sentence was correct and should stay.

The caning would be done with a thin stick on the back and would be largely symbolic rather than aimed at causing pain, unlike the caning of rapists and drug smugglers with a thick rattan stick on bare buttocks that causes the skin to break and leave scars. 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.

Only three states in Malaysia -- Pahang, Perlis and Kelantan -- impose caning for drinking alcohol. In the other 10 states it is punishable by a fine.