Malaysian state to cane woman after Ramadan

Religious authorities in Malaysia are to cane a Muslim woman convicted of drinking alcohol once the fasting month of Ramadan is over, scotching hopes that she could escape punishment.

Earlier on Monday, officials from the eastern Malaysian mainland state of Pahang said that an arrest warrant for Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno, a 32-year old mother of two, could not be enforced.

”The punishment has not been cancelled, it was postponed because of Ramadan,” Pahang state executive councillor for religion, missionary work and unity, Mohamad Sahfri Abdul Aziz, told Reuters.

Ramadan, a period of fasting and contemplation, started on Saturday and is observed by the majority Muslim population in this South-east Asian country of 27-million people.

The sentence of caning has sparked concerns over a parallel Islamic legal system in this multi-ethnic country which has seen a rise in the power of an opposition Islamic party.

Mohamad Sahfri said Malaysia’s attorney-general had advised postponement of the punishment consisting of six lashes of the cane. Kartika had asked for her sentence, handed down for a December 2007 offence, be carried out in public.

She was taken away from her home in a van on Monday, but it travelled only a short distance before returning to her house and Kartika initially refused to get out of the van, saying she wanted to know whether she would be freed.

”I will not come out without a black and white document explaining the status of what has happened. I am surprised and speechless,” Kartika told reporters before her father talked her into leaving the vehicle.

While caning is a common punishment under Malaysia’s civil code, as it is in neighbouring Singapore, no woman has been caned and the severity of the punishment has generated criticism that the modern majority-Muslim state was becoming more hardline. – Reuters

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