caning
This would be the first time that a woman has been caned in this mainly Muslim country of 27 million people that is seen as a moderate state.












Malaysian authorities Monday postponed caning a Muslim woman for drinking beer in a hotel bar, in a case which has drawn international attention to the spreading use of Islamic laws in this traditionally moderate, predominantly Muslim country.

Islamic authorities granted Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno a one-month reprieve to mark the holy fasting month of Ramadan, which began on Saturday in Malaysia. State-run media reported Mohamed Sahfri Abdul Aziz, a state legislator in charge of religious affairs, as saying the attorney general's office advised the caning should be delayed until after Ramadan, but the sentence will still be carried out.


The severity of the sentence meted out to Ms. Kartika – she would have been the first Malaysian woman to be caned – caught many Malaysians by surprise. The 32-year-old mother of two was sentenced to six lashes with a rattan cane after being caught drinking beer at a hotel in Pahang state in 2007.

Drinking alcohol is illegal for Malaysia's Muslims, who make up about 60% of the nation's 27 million people and are subject to Islamic Shariah law in additional to civil law. Those caught doing so usually are subjected to a fine or brief prison sentence, while Malaysia's non-Muslims, including large ethnic-Chinese and Indian minorities, are free to drink and aren't subject to Shariah law.

Ms. Kartika's sentence has triggered a debate about whether caning was too harsh and humiliating a punishment for a multiracial country such as Malaysia. Political analysts, meanwhile, said the sentence points to the growing role of Islam in the country's political battles as the ruling National Front and an Islamist opposition party are compete to present themselves as protectors of the faith.

slamic scholars say the punishment, which involves being struck on the rear with a thin bamboo cane, is designed to educate rather than hurt. However, male convicts who are caned in Malaysia are often beaten until the skin is broken. Sometimes permanent scarring can occur.

The country's politicians are mostly trying to steer clear of the controversy, apparently fearing that they might be portrayed as not sufficiently Islamic ahead of a series of local elections if they criticize the caning of Ms. Kartika.

Former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, however, said in his blog Monday that Malaysia's Muslims have nothing to explain to the rest of the world. "As Muslims, we do not have to care too much about the view of others toward Islam when doing what the religion calls for," he said.

Ms. Kartika, for her part, last week urged the authorities to cane her in public in order to deter other Muslims from drinking alcohol and refused to appeal her sentence. She couldn't be immediately reached for comment, but her sister Ratna told the Associated Press that Ms. Kartika was "stressed" by Monday's decision to delay her punishment.

Earlier on Monday, Ms. Kartika began traveling to a prison near Kuala Lumpur where the caning was due to be carried out, but was then released and returned home by Islamic officials. It initially appeared that Malaysia's religious authorities had decided that they couldn't legally detain Ms. Kartika in a secular prison while her punishment was carried out.

Later, officials said the punishment would be delayed until after Ramadan. People familiar with the situation say Islamic judges are now discussing whether to maintain the caning sentence handed down to Ms. Kartika.

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