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Malaysian court puts caning of woman on hold

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[August 25, 2009]  KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) -- An Islamic court in Malaysia on Tuesday indefinitely put on hold the caning of a woman found guilty of drinking beer, saying the sentence was too harsh, a news report said.

The chief judge of Pahang state's Shariah court decided to defer the caning pending a review "as it was deemed too extreme," The Star newspaper reported on its Web site.

The report did not give details and court officials were not immediately available for comment.

Separately, Malaysia's home minister indicated the caning was unlikely to be carried out, arguing the prisons department did not have staff with the expertise to administer the caning according to Shariah laws.

The developments were likely to defuse growing consternation in Malaysia over the unusual sentencing, which if carried out would have made Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno the first woman to be caned in the country.

The 32-year-old woman's plight has drawn international attention to the use of Islamic laws and raised questions whether a radical brand of Islam is taking root in this traditionally moderate Muslim-majority country.

Earlier Tuesday, Women, Family and Community Development Minister Shahrizat Abdul Jalil told reporters the sentence projected a "cruel image" of Malaysia.

Prime Minister Najib Razak also urged Kartika to appeal the sentence, saying she had several avenues available to escape the punishment.

Kartika, however, refused to appeal, saying she simply wants to get it over with. "I don't want to appeal," Kartika told The Associated Press. "They shouldn't ask me to appeal."

The possibility has shocked many people, including Muslim leaders and commentators in Malaysia, even though the whipping -- to be administered lightly with a thin cane -- will largely be symbolic and not aimed at causing pain.

The call for her to appeal -- and the judiciary's indefinite postponement of the punishment -- could be seen as an attempt by the government to save face in response to international condemnation.

Kartika's mobile phone was turned off when contacted by The Associated Press on Tuesday evening.

Kartika was arrested by Islamic morality police for drinking beer at a beach resort in December 2007. She was sentenced by a Shariah court to six lashes of a rattan cane, which was supposed to have been administered this week in a prison.

But authorities postponed the caning on Monday until after the holy month of Ramadan, which ends in mid-September. The last-minute reprieve was given after Kartika was picked up from her home in northern Malaysia by three religious officials. They brought her back home 30 minutes later.

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"I need time to calm down after what happened yesterday ... It's not for me to decide what to do now. I will let (the authorities) decide what will happen to me," Kartika said

Her father, Shukarno Abdul Muttalib, said she just wants to resume her life in Singapore, where she has lived in recent years with her Singaporean husband and two young children.

Malaysia's Muslims, who make up 60 percent of the country's 27 million people, are prohibited from drinking alcohol under the Shariah laws they are subject to. The offense is punishable by up to three years in prison and caning but most offenders have been let off with a fine in the past.

Malaysia's non-Muslims, the ethnic Chinese and Indians, are allowed to consume alcohol and are not subjected to Shariah laws but only civil laws.

Malaysia's Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told reporters that the caning could not have been carried out anyway since the Prisons Department has no staff experienced to administer the caning in compliance with Shariah laws.

"I have to admit we do not have experience in this case ... I cannot allow it if we do not have the expertise," said Hishammuddin, whose ministry handles police and prisons.

"As long as the Home Ministry is not ready the sentence will not be carried out. If we do not have the person to do this (caning), how are we to carry out the sentence fairly?"

[Associated Press; By VIJAY JOSHI]

Associated Press writer Sean Yoong contributed to this report.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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