Malaysia upholds caning sentence for Muslim woman

Amnesty International has urged the Malaysian government to place a moratorium on the punishment of caning after an appeal court upheld a six strokes caning sentence given to a Muslim woman for drinking alcohol in public. Shariah Court of Appeal in the State of Pahang upheld the sentence imposed on on Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno on Monday. Last month, the Kartika’s punishment was postponed indefinitely pending revision. The postponement had initially been until the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. If the sentence is carried out, Kartika, 32, will become the first woman to be caned under Shariah law. “The Malaysian government should do all it can to stop this inhumane punishment from being used and place a moratorium on caning as a sentence, with a view to repeal all laws providing for this and all other forms of corporal punishment”, said Sam Zarifi, director of Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Programme.   “Since 2002, more than 35,000 irregular migrants have been caned or flogged. Caning is a form of cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment and is prohibited under international human rights law,” he added. “These rights may never be suspended under any circumstances. Malaysia should take a lead within the region in establishing these Human Rights standards, particularly as a country aiming to reach developed nation status by the end of the next decade.”   On the 20 July, the Shariah High Court in Pahang sentenced Kartika to six strokes of the cane and fined her RM5, 000 (approximately US$ 1,400) after she pleaded guilty to consuming alcohol at a hotel there. The judge in the case had also threatened to jail her for three years if she did not pay the RM 5,000 fine, which she subsequently paid.      In September, the Pahang Syariah court sentenced an Indonesian Muslim man to six strokes of the cane and a year in prison for drinking alcohol while later in the month, the Syariah Court in the State of Selangor sentenced a Muslim couple to six strokes of the cane each after they were caught trying to have pre-marital sex.      Caning is currently used as a supplementary punishment for at least 40 crimes in Malaysia , but  Kartika’s sentence is the fist 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. 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.