22 August 2009

Malaysia, Caning, and Beer -- Part III

Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno is set to be contained according to her sentence sometime next week. The sentence was six lashes of the cane and a fine of 5000 ringgit. Her crime, being a Muslim and drinking beer in a nightclub in the eastern state of Pahang. I wrote about it here.

Shukarno has asked for the sentence to be carried out as soon as possible. Her request is based on two simple reasons; the sooner the sentence is carried out, the sooner she can get on with the rest of her life, and secondly, she wants others to learn from her mistakes so that they might avoid a similar caning in the future. Her regret is apparently the driving force for the desire for a public caning.

Although, there seems to be a bit of a caveat on the caning in that Shukarno wants it carried out in public rather than in the confines of a closed prison. This would certainly seem the most likely way of ensuring maximum exposure (pun intended). It is worth noting that Shukarno will be the first woman to be caned under Islamic Law. There must be a sellable story in that somewhere, particularly when one considers she lives in Singapore and not Malaysia.

It must also be noted that caning is not unusual as a form of punishment in Malaysia. There are at least forty crimes that attract a good caning. The criminal punishment statistics compiled by Amnesty International state that almost 35,000 people have been caned in Malaysia between 2002 and 2008. The majority of these canings were for immigration offenses. Simply, a few strokes on the buttocks and on your way back to wherever it is that you came from.

Amnesty International has been vocal in its opposition to caning. According to Amnesty International, caning is a cruel and degrading punishment, and as such must not be used as a form of punishment. Besides, cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishments are expressly prohibited under international law. AI has, in fact, asked the Malaysian government to vacate this sentence and to pass legislation that would prohibit the use of caning under any circumstances in Malaysia.

However, Malaysia in its defense of the soon-to-occur caning is that the cane (rattan / rotan) is smaller than the one used for men, the swing is shorter, and the purpose is to educate rather than punish, therefore Shukarno is not likely to endure too much pain when it is all said and done.

The problem, or perhaps issue, for me is that the idea of concurrent courts, General and Islamic, means that there is a two-tiered justice system where punishments depend on your religious beliefs, and therefore will differ from others who commit a similar offense or in this case where they commit no offense at all. It is not illegal for non-Muslims to drink alcohol in Malaysia.

Maybe there will be a video so that we can all get a public viewing of the manner of a Malaysian caning.


Pramudya A. Oktavinanda said...

I don't know how the system was established in Malaysia, but the fact that there is no single codification of Islamic laws that can be applied universally in this world should be firstly considered before ever attempting to apply Islamic laws to a certain jurisdiction. As an example, under the Hanafi school, consuming alcoholic substances is not prohibited as long as the ones who consume weren't getting drunk. However, since most of the South East Asian ulemas are the proud members of the Shafi'i school, it is no wonder that Malaysia could have such rule.

Anyway, having different legal jurisdictions in one country is not much a problem with me, but at least don't issue any regulations which give sanctions to personal actions that don't affect other people. People should be free to do what they want to do as long as they don't harm other people. You can penalize a drunkard for driving while being drunk because he may cause danger to other people, but penalizing someone for just being drunk? That's exaggerating!

And as for God's issue, that should be dealt privately between the man and the God itself.

Rob Baiton said...


Here is the thing, Indonesia has been thinking about establishing a two-tiered system for some time. The Religious Courts and their supporters have been lobbying for an expansion of the Religious Court mandate to go beyond its traditional jurisdiction.

The idea being to include financial matters (Syariah economy). It is then only a small jump to extend that jurisdiction to criminal matters.

A two-tiered system is already in essence in effect in Aceh, isn't it?

I appreciate the difference in the Islamic schools of law.

In a perfect world, people might be free to do what they want. But, we do not live in a perfect world. The reality is that lines have to be drawn in the sand in an attempt to prevent others from harming others.

People's sins are indeed an issue for them and God. However, we are a long way from that ever being a reality, aren't we?

Brett said...

I have a question. How to Malaysians discipline their children? Here in Indonesia, any form of physical punishment seems to be frowned on. If it is the same in Malaysia, why is it okay to cane adults, but not kids?

Pramudya A. Oktavinanda said...

Yes Rob, I understand that. You know even Bank Indonesia officials were surprised when they found out that the Indonesian house of representatives issued an amendment to the Religious Court stating that all disputes related to Islamic economic activities should be brought to the religious court.

Fortunately, they counteract that law by issuing the Islamic Banking Law which allow Indonesian Islamic Banks to bring their disputes to other jurisdiction as long as it is agreed in a mutual agreement with their customer. To be honest, I won't recommend any of my client to use religious court as a dispute settlement mechanism, the judges are not well versed in the Islamic finance transactions, that's for sure.

On God's issue, you might be right, but then again, who knows? hahaha

Rob Baiton said...


I cannot answer that question. I have not spent any time to speak of in Malaysia to know either way on that.

The disciplining of children in Indonesia is an interesting one. I have seen some physical punishment meted out by adults on children in public places.

But, generally, I would agree that children very much get the run of things as they want. This makes them on the whole a nightmare to manage in schools.

Rob Baiton said...


The BI officials were not all that surprised because this was not proposed in stealth and it is not something that came out of left field. The surprise would be, if any, is that the drive for the amendments had any legs.

The Islamic Banking Law is not a be all to end all on this front. The fact that matters require mutual agreement as to forum / jurisdiction means that the process can be long and drawn out, wasting more time and more money.

On the God front, I am always right, just ask me! Just kidding :D