Authorities in Malaysia have indefinitely postponed the caning of a Muslim woman convicted of drinking alcohol in public. The postponement was initially until the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. However reports suggest that the sentence is being revised by the Shariah Court of Appeal in the Malaysian State of Pahang.
Welcoming the temporary reprieve, Amnesty International called on the Malaysian government to stop using the penalty of caning altogether.
"This case highlights the epidemic of caning and flogging going on in Malaysia," said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific director. "Since 2002, more than 35,000 people have been caned or flogged, most of them irregular migrants."
Kartika Sari Devvi Shukarno was to be remanded at the Kajang women's prison in the state of Pahang from Monday, where she was to be caned within seven days.
According to media reports, she was being driven from her father's house to the prison, when the van she was in turned around and brought her back.
Authorities in Pahang said on Monday that the delay would run until the month of fasting ends. Monday was the third day of Ramadan.
Kartika Sari Devvi Shukarno, 32, was sentenced to six strokes of the cane for drinking beer in a hotel bar in December 2007. She was also fined RM5,000 (approximately US$ 1,400) by a court administering Islamic Shariah law in the state of Pahang after she pleaded guilty to the offence.
She has not appealed against her sentence. If the caning had gone ahead, she would have been the first woman in Malaysia to be punished in such a way.
In June 2009, the Malaysian government announced that they had sentenced 47,914 migrants to be caned for immigration offences since amendments to its Immigration Act came into force in 2002. At least 34,923 migrants have so far been caned between 2002 and 2008, according to the country’s prison department records.
Amnesty International called for the government to repeal all laws providing for caning and all other forms of corporal punishment.
"Caning is a form of cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment and is prohibited under international human rights law," said Sam Zarifi. "The Malaysian government should do all it can to stop this inhumane punishment being used in any circumstance."
Caning is currently used as a supplementary punishment for at least 40 crimes in Malaysia, but this is the first time it has been used against anyone found guilty of violating the country’s religious laws. The Shariah law applies only to Muslims, who make up 60 percent of the country’s 28 million population.