Malaysia: URGENT appeal for intervention to stay sentence of caning

The Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML) international solidarity network is deeply concerned to learn that Madam Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno has been sentenced by the Pahang Syariah Court to six strokes of the rotan (and fined RM 5000) as punishment for drinking beer in a hotel nightclub in 2007.
Although the sentence was originally expected to be carried out on 4th August 2009, it is now not clear when it will actually take place. According to news reports, Madam Kartika would be the first Malaysian woman ever to be caned, even though the caning of Muslims is stipulated as a punishment in the Syariah Court Act 1984.

As stated by Mr Mohd Isa Abdul Ralip, president of the Malaysian Syariah Lawyers Association, “all Muslims, regardless of whether they are tourists or Malaysians, are subject to local Islamic laws” (The Straits Times, 24 July 2009). Muslim women in Malaysia, including non-Malaysian Muslim women, are thus discriminated against, as compared with non-Muslim women, who are not subject to be caned under Malaysian laws.

WLUML and its allies believe that state-imposed violence against women cannot be condoned by the international community, and that there can never be any justification for such inhumane punishments. Even though in this case Madam Kartika appears to have resigned herself to being whipped in order to be finished with the painful ordeal, we are concerned about this case setting a dangerous precedent for the caning of Muslim women in Malaysia and elsewhere. In handing down the sentence, Pahang Syariah High Court judge Abdul Rahman Yunus said, “The rotan is aimed at making the accused repent and serves as a lesson to Muslims.” (The Straits Times, 22 July 2009). Clearly, Madam Kartika has been singled out as a warning to all Muslim women whose behaviour could be perceived as transgressing social norms.

Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno was sentenced to six lashes and a fine of 5,000 ringgit ($1,400) for consuming alcohol. Shukarno, a 32-year-old model, pleaded guilty in the court in eastern Pahang state to a charge of drinking beer when Islamic authorities raided a hotel nightclub. Consuming alcohol is a religious offense in Malaysia only for Muslims, who make up nearly two-thirds of the population. Offenders are prosecuted in Shariah courts, which handle cases mainly related to family and moral issues for Muslims. Most offenders are fined, but the law also provides for a three-year prison term and caning. Shukarno was the only Muslim caught in the raid at the Pahang nightclub. Malaysian clubs and lounges typically serve alcohol but are not legally required to check if customers are Muslim before serving them, so the hotel nightclub operators were not charged with any offense.

Malaysia: Sisters in Islam criticize whipping of women

27/07/2009: Open letter: 'Sisters in Islam' (SIS) urges the government to review whipping of women as a form of judicial punishment by the Syariah Courts.

It constitutes further discrimination against Muslim women in Malaysia and violates Constitutional guarantees of equality and non-discrimination.

"Whipping of women under Syariah Criminal Offences legislation also contradicts civil law where women are not punishable by whipping under Section 289 of the Criminal Procedure Code. Whipping of men too are limited by age. Under state Syariah Criminal Offences Codes, only Pahang, Perlis and Kelantan provide whipping of women. Whipping as a form of punishment also violates human rights principles, in particular the right to be free from cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment or punishment. Nor is whipping for consuming alcohol considered proportional to the gravity of the offence.

There is no consensus among Muslim scholars on the range of crimes for which whipping is prescribed, nor on whether women should be whipped. Many countries have already abolished the judicial punishment of whipping or corporal punishment as research has shown that it is not an effective deterrent, even to violent or sexual crimes. Research since abolition also showed that this did not result in an increase in the offences for which whipping was previously imposed.

Given that whipping does not lead to reform nor act as a deterrent, and that it constitutes a form of cruel and degrading treatment that, it is unfortunate that many Muslim countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Iran, Afghanistan and Nigeria, have resorted to introducing whipping to more and more offences, in the name of Islam or the mistaken belief that it acts as an effective deterrent.

SIS believes that Islam as a religion of compassion calls people to the way of God with wisdom, as expressed in Surah An-Nahl,16:125, “Invite all to the way of the Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching, and reason with them in the ways that are best and most gracious.”

The goal of Islamic authorities is to prevent crime in the first place, not to inflict severe punishment as a first resort. Promoting and protecting the human rights of the ummah, ensuring socio-economic justice, educating the ummah about God’s teachings and laws in order that they become responsible for abiding by them out of faith are prerequisites before any punishment can be implemented.

SIS, therefore, urges the government to conduct a review of severe forms of punishments, which violate human rights principles and where evidence have shown that they fail to deter or to reform the offenders.

Dr Hamidah Marican
Executive Director
Sisters In Islam
Petaling Jaya
23 July 2009

WLUML networkers