To Cane or Not to Cane - that is the question

Kartika holds her daughter Wann Kaitlynn Sari Dewi as she is escorted by religious officers out of her father's house in Sungei Siput yesterday for the caning sentence. The sentence was however called off and postponed to after Ramadan. —

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 25 — Datuk Seri Najib Razak has advised part-time model Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno to appeal against her caning sentence by the Syariah Court for consuming beer instead of accepting the punishment willingly.

The prime minister’s remarks today appear to suggest he has been forced to wade in over the issue because his government is concerned that it has taken a life of its own with daily reports in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and other foreign publications.

Yesterday, religious authorities gave a last-minute, temporary reprieve in a case that has stirred passions over the increasingly strict enforcement of Islamic law in recent years.

Kartika was detained by prison authorities yesterday but was then released.

Officials say the caning would be carried out after Ramadan. It will be the first caning for a woman under Islamic laws.

The case has been criticised by more liberal Muslims and also non-Muslims who fear Malaysia is drifting from its secular traditions.

Najib’s administration appears to be concerned with the kind of message the sentence sends out to the world as Malaysia has portrayed itself as a model for a moderate and progressive Muslim country.

“I think the affected party should appeal to the state authorities and not be so willing to accept the punishment,” Najib told reporters.

He also expressed confidence that the religious authorities would be considerate.

“There is room for appeal and the state authorities are always considerate on this matter.”

Najib said the federal government could not and would not interfere in the administration of Islamic law.

But he seemed to strongly suggest that the government was working to avoid the sentence from being carried out.

“I believe the authorities concern are sensitive on this matter and realise the implication of this case,” he said.

Kartika was fined RM5,000 and sentenced to six strokes of the cane for drinking beer at a hotel in Najib's home state of Pahang.

Legal experts have criticised the caning as it could open up the state government to legal action.

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