29 September 2009

Malaysia, Caning, and Beer -- Part V

Sooner or later it seems Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno is going to feel the thud and sting of the cane. The case is an interesting test of Malaysia's claims to be a moderate Muslim nation and the acceptance of strict forms of Sharia law that impact on only certain groups within the Malaysian ethnic, cultural, and religious fabric. Shukarno has upped the ante in the case by refusing to appeal.

Once the sentence is carried out, she will become the first Muslim woman in Malaysia to be sentenced to a caning and then have the sentence imposed.

Shukarno's crime was to be a Muslim caught drinking beer in a nightclub in Pahang state. The religious court found her guilty of the crime and sentenced her to six strokes of the cane. I have written about the details of the case here.

The government stepped in and requested a review of the case because it believed the sentence to be too harsh and the press about the case could conceivably damage Malaysia's reputation as a moderate Muslim nation.

However, and perhaps in a sign of separation of powers, the religious high court in Kuantan has affirmed the lower religious court's decision and has stated in unequivocal terms that the sentence was correct and it must be imposed as handed-down.

It was also decided that a good ol' caning during the month of Ramadan was not in the spirit of the month where fasting, praying, and cleaning oneself of sins are paramount.

Islamic scholars in Malaysia have generally supported the sentence and have said in any event Shukarno is to be fully clothed and the cane is much smaller and lighter than the canes used in criminal matters. Perhaps this is meant to suggest that it is a lesser offense and hence there is a lesser punishment or it just won't hurt that much anyway, so let's get this over and done with.

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