itn.co.uk (Independent Television News), London, 24 August 2009
Beer drinking Muslim
model asks for public caning
Human rights group Amnesty International has denounced plans by
Malaysian authorities to cane a Muslim model for drinking beer.
Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno will be the first Malaysian woman to
be caned under Islamic laws applicable to the country's Muslims,
who account for 60 percent of the 27-million population.
Kartika was arrested in a raid for drinking alcohol at a hotel
lounge last year and sentenced to caning by a Shariah court in
July in what was considered a warning to other Muslims to abide
by religious laws.
She says her 20-month legal ordeal has been stressful, but she
respects the law.
In fact, she is defiantly asking that the punishment, six strokes
of the cane, be carried out in public, something the authorities
are reluctant to allow.
Opinions are divided about the punishment Kartika faces under
Islamic laws, which some say are too severe and selectively
ITN news report, 22 August 2009 (1 minute 28 seconds) from Malaysia, of which the above is a text summary.
HERE IS THE CLIP:
IMPORTANT: Copyright in this video material rests with ITN. This brief excerpt is reproduced under the "fair use" doctrine for private, non-profit, historical research and education purposes only. It must not be redistributed or republished in any commercial context.
The chief judge of the Pahang Syariah Court ordered the
punishment of Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno to be deferred, the
Minister for Women, Family and Community Development Shahrizat
Abdul Jalil said.
"The overriding view was that the sentence meted out was too
harsh and was not commensurate with the offence," she told
Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said that the caning could not
go ahead until the prisons department had the expertise to carry
it out according to syariah laws.
Prime Minister Najib Razak earlier yesterday said Kartika should
appeal and not just resign herself to the punishment.
Speaking at a women's day event later, Datuk Seri Najib urged
Islamic authorities to mete out physical punishment only as a
"Islam is about compassion and mercy, physical "Islam
is about compassion and mercy, physical punishment should be the
last resort," he said, without referring to the Kartika case
Kartika, 32, was arrested by Islamic morality police for drinking
beer at a beach resort in Pahang in December 2007. She was
sentenced to six strokes of the cane and fined RM5,000 (S$2,050),
which she has already paid.
Click to enlarge
The deadline for filing an appeal with the Pahang Syariah High
Court has lapsed, but she was urged by Mr Najib to file for a
The government's belated intervention suggests that it may not
allow the woman to be caned. The sentence was to have been
carried out this week but was unexpectedly postponed on Monday
until the fasting month of Ramadan ended.
The court's caning order has caused serious damage to Malaysia's
international image as a moderate Muslim nation.
The mother of two young children would have been the first woman
in Malaysia to be caned for an Islamic offence.
The case reignited a longstanding debate in Malaysia over the
extent to which private religious infringements should be
punished by the state.
Although this is the most dramatic case by far, Malaysia has
faced similar controversies when religious officials arrested
Muslims for offences such as close proximity.
The issue is a political minefield. But while the Barisan
Nasional government has moved cautiously in its approach, the
opposition Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) made its position clear.
Its youth chief Nasrudin Hassan was quoted by a news website as
saying yesterday: "We do not want the syariah courts to be
seen as inconsistent or powerless."
Public opinion is deeply divided. Liberal Muslims have spoken out
strongly against the caning, with campaigns launched to ban the
whipping of women. The Malaysian Bar, an organization of lawyers,
has also joined it. A group of women's non-governmental
organizations said yesterday the sentence was totally
"She was, after all, a first-time offender who showed
remorse and pleaded guilty," said Mrs Mariah Chin Abdullah,
executive director of the Selangor Community Awareness Society.
RELATED VIDEO CLIP
News report by Aljazeera English TV, 23 August 2009 (3 mins 7 secs). Harry Fawcett in Kuala Lumpur fills in the background on the Kartika case just a couple of days before the above decision to put her caning on hold. Kartika herself is interviewed, along with activists who are opposing the punishment.
HERE IS THE CLIP:
IMPORTANT: Copyright in this video material rests with Aljazeera. This brief excerpt is reproduced under the "fair use" doctrine for private, non-profit, historical research and education purposes only. It must not be redistributed or republished in any commercial context.
And let's do away too with a slew of outmoded, archaic laws
in the statute books, both syariah and civil.
By P. Gunasegaram
Let's come right out and say it: It is abhorrent to most Malaysians and most of the world that a Muslim woman -- or
any woman -- should be whipped for drinking beer. And that is
especially so when scholars say that the Quran does not prescribe
such a punishment in the first place.
It's a fact of Malaysian life that when it comes to religion
we tread ever so softly, sometimes even too softly, because this
entire area is considered so sensitive and is open to
manipulation by undesirable elements in society.
But, sometimes, when those charged with the upholding of
religious laws overstep their boundaries, it is up to the rest of
us -- Muslim or non-Muslim -- to speak up or otherwise
run the risk of having the more extreme views predominate and
It's dangerous if we don't, because shying away from making a
stand against an unfair situation means that those perpetrating
it simply get more encouraged.
If the silent majority keeps silent its voice will never be
heard. That would be bad.
And then there is the issue of many outmoded and archaic laws in
the statute books, both syariah and civil, which can -- and
sometimes are -- used to press charges against citizens.
Click to enlarge
The most famous of these now is the second charge of sodomy that
former deputy prime minister and current Pakatan Rakyat de facto
leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim faces.
Many of these laws don't involve any harm done to others and
mainly centre around a person's individual behaviour and his
relations with other adults in private.
It is time that we cleaned up our statute books and got rid of
laws that infringe on a person's individual choice and which does
no harm to others.
We should not only act when there is international reaction and
attention focused on the issue but must as a matter of course do
what is right and just for those who are affected by such
Earlier this week, Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno, a Malaysian living
in Singapore, had her whipping sentence deferred by the Pahang
Syariah Appeal Court in view of Ramadan, the fasting month.
On July 20, the Pahang Syariah Court had fined Kartika RM5,000
and ordered her to be given six strokes of the rotan after she
pleaded guilty to drinking beer at a hotel in Cherating, Pahang,
Kartika refused to appeal and was not only adamant that she be
caned but also wanted it to be done in public.
Everything seemed set for her punishment when she was scheduled
for caning on Monday at Kajang prison. But Pahang Religious
Department officers made a literal U-turn after picking her up at
her house and returned her 45 minutes later after stopping by the
roadside for 40 minutes.
This followed a letter from the Attorney-General's Chambers.
This case is drawing international media attention and may well
affect Malaysia's long-standing reputation and status as a
moderate Islamic nation which has managed to blend Islamic tenets
with development imperatives for the betterment of its citizenry.
In a twist of events, Kartika achieved what some of our best
corporate personalities have not been able to -- to make the
front page of two of the most respected business newspapers in
Both Asia editions of the New York-based Wall Street Journal and
the London-based Financial Times had pictures of her on Tuesday
on page 1, with reports inside.
Besides that, her plight was also reported in the New York Times
and by other newspapers and agencies across the globe.
While our actions should not be based on what others think of us,
we must also be mindful that they are in accord with
internationally accepted norms with respect to human rights and
right of choice when it comes to personal behaviour.
We must take care not to be hypocrites and not to be selective in
If everyone who is a Muslim is to be whipped for taking alcohol,
our jails will be filled to overflowing with those awaiting
punishment and I dare say this will include quite a number of
very big names.
So why can't we do away with punishment for an offence like this
especially when many experts say there is no prescribed
punishment in the Quran for taking alcohol?
While at it, we should remove from the statute books archaic laws
relating to people's sexual preferences.
How ridiculous it is for instance to keep laws which outlaw oral
sex, for instance, and other acts which occur between consenting
adults in their own individual moments of privacy!
There is more than a case to be made out for outlawing whipping
completely for any offence, especially since experts say that
there is no evidence to indicate that such punishment deters
We have only to look at the number of rape and incest cases in
our country to understand that the assertion is anecdotally true.
We have to stand steadfast against those who would enlist the
help of vigilantes to oversee personal behaviour.
There was one proposal a couple of years ago for khalwat or close
Earlier this week, a Selangor state executive council member
proposed that mosque officials be given the right to arrest
Muslims who take alcohol.
Imagine the kind of abuse that will give rise to -- and the
invasion of privacy such moves will result in -- if there is
a scramble to catch offenders.
Already there have been many reported cases of abuse, including
one where a Rela officer refused to allow a female detainee to
relieve herself in private and actually took a picture of her
when she did.
No matter from where justice comes, the bottom line is that it
must be fair, merciful, impartial, compassionate and
proportionate to the offence committed. If we ensure that all
laws -- syariah or civil -- conform to that, there will
be no problems.