Thursday, April 01, 2010 
11:14 Mecca time, 08:14 GMT 

      Malaysia caning sentence commuted 
                  Shariah laws apply to Muslims in all personal matters, while 
non-Muslims are covered by civil laws [EPA] 
      A Muslim woman sentenced to be caned for drinking beer in Malaysia has 
had her punishment commuted in a surprising turnaround.

      The case had raised questions about Islamic laws intruding into personal 
matters in the country.

      Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno, 33, received a letter from the Pahang Islamic 
department informing her that the state's sultan had decided to spare her the 
caning, her lawyer said on Thursday.

      Had Kartika's punishment been carried out at the time of her sentencing 
in July, she would have been the first woman to be caned in Malaysia, where 
about 60 per cent of the 28 million people are Muslims.

      Kartika was sentenced to six strokes of the cane and a fine of 5,000 
ringgit ($1,400) for drinking beer in December 2007 at a beach resort.

      Malaysia follows a dual-track justice system. Shariah laws apply to 
Muslims in all personal matters; non-Muslims are covered by civil laws, and are 
free to drink.

      Only three states in Malaysia - Pahang, Perlis and Kelantan - impose 
caning for drinking alcohol. In the other 10 states it is punishable by a fine.

      Media uproar

      Kartika pleaded guilty and did not appeal her sentence, but the 
punishment was
      halted at the last minute following an uproar in the media and among 
rights activists.

      Adham Jamalullail, Kartika's lawyer, told the Associated Press news 
agency that "as a substitution for the caning, the sultan has ordered Kartika 
to perform community service for three weeks".

      Sultan Ahmad Shah is the guardian of Islam in Pahang and its titular 
head. Most of Malaysia's 13 states are ruled by sultans who usually play a 
ceremonial role in governance but have the power to rule in Islamic matters.

      Shukarno Abdul Muttalib, Kartika's father, said she has been told to 
report to the Islamic department early on Friday.

      "We will abide by the order ... Kartika will go on with her life,'' he 

      The sultan's decision followed Kartika's meeting with the Pahang crown 
prince last month.

      Officials had said the caning would be very different to the corporal 
punishment administered on male criminals under secular civil laws.

      Lifelong scars

      Drug offenders, kidnappers and others are caned with a thick rattan stick 
on bare
      buttocks that break the skin and leave lifelong scars.

      Kartika's punishment under Islamic laws would have been delivered with a 
thin cane on the back with her clothes on.

      However, in the meantime three other Muslim women were caned for having 
sex out of wedlock, becoming the first Muslim women to be caned in Malaysia.

      Their cases did not draw as much attention because the caning was kept a 
secret until after it was done.

      Subsequently, the women themselves appeared before local media and said 
they deserved the punishment.

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