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Caning of ex-model: Malaysia tries to keep moderate image

The Malaysian leadership on Wednesday rallied to keep the nation's reputation as moderate and multi-racial following the punishment to an ex-model who could be the first woman to be caned for drinking beer in public.

world Updated: Aug 26, 2009 11:57 IST

The Malaysian leadership on Wednesday rallied to keep the nation's reputation as moderate and multi-racial following the punishment to an ex-model who could be the first woman to be caned for drinking beer in public.

As the government indicated its intention to revoke the sentence, the woman in the eye of a global storm, Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno, on Tuesday moved a court to stall being accused of running away from punishment.

She refused to file an appeal and said that if the authorities wanted to revoke the punishment, they should do so openly.

"I will not appeal. Carry out the punishment. Don't waste my time," she told media on Tuesday.

Women, Family and Community Development Minister Shahrizat Abdul Jalil said the chief judge of a state Syariah appeals court had ordered the sentence to be deferred pending the review.

"The overriding view was that the sentence meted out was too harsh and is not commensurate with the offence," she said.

"We are equally concerned not only for Kartika Sari, but also for the fact that this one particular case could have damaged the image of Malaysia in its fair and just implementation of the Syariah law."

As his government deferred carrying out the punishment during the holy month of Ramadan, Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak said Kartika had avenues for appeal that the authorities could consider.

Malaysia's elder statesman and former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad said the punishment to Kartika of a fine and six strokes of rotan "might be too harsh".

"Is not Islam merciful to first-time offenders?" Mahathir asked, adding that fairness and consideration were the main tenets in Islam.

"We will be celebrating our independence this year by flogging a Muslim woman for drinking beer under Syariah law," he said on his blog.

The Malaysian Bar Council reiterated its stand against whipping and called on the authorities to overturn the sentence.

"Our position echoes international human rights norms that condemn whipping and other forms of corporal punishment as cruel, inhuman or degrading and call for its abolition," Bar Council president Ragunath Kesavan said in a statement on Monday.

There was evidence that whipping has failed as a deterrent sentence, The Star quoted him as saying.

Kesavan, a prominent ethnic Indian lawyer, urged the government to reject whipping as a form of sentencing for any offence and to abolish it altogether.

He said Malaysian civil law prohibited the whipping of women, children and men of certain ages and those with certain health conditions.

However, a leader of the Malaysian Pan-Islamic Party (PAS), a constituent of the opposition alliance Pakatan Rakyat that rules in five states, took a contrary view.

PAS Youth chief Nasruddin Hassan said the whipping should be carried out as requested by Kartika and her family members.

He added that any legal complication that could arise from the punishment should have been analysed earlier and the issue had exposed the weaknesses of the Syariah system.

Prime Minister Najib Razak earlier on Tuesday urged Kartika to appeal the sentence, which has generated unwelcome headlines and jeopardised Malaysia's image as a moderate Muslim-majority nation.

Razak said on Monday that corporal punishment should be the last resort in the enforcement of Syariah laws against women.

"Islam is a religion of compassion and mercy. It is not about corporal punishment. That is the last resort.

"That's how it should be practised. We must not go overboard," he said at the national Women's Day celebration at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre.

On July 20, the Pahang Syariah High Court had fined Kartika and ordered her to be given six strokes of the cane after she pleaded guilty to drinking beer at a hotel in Cherating last year.