Thursday, February 18, 2010
Outrage Over Caning of Women in Malaysia
The caning of three Muslim women for having illicit sex, the first time the penalty has been carried out under Islamic law in Malaysia, drew outrage from rights activists on Thursday.
The case has fuelled concerns over rising “Islamisation” in Malaysia, where religious courts have been clamping down on rarely enforced religious laws that ban alcohol and sex out of wedlock for Muslim Malays. The women were caned earlier this month at a women’s prison outside Kuala Lumpur, the home minister revealed Wednesday, saying they received the punishment
while they were fully clothed and were not injured.
Amnesty International said there has been an “epidemic” of caning in the Muslim-majority country, where many more people have been whipped under civil laws.
Legal commentators said that the Islamic courts — which operate in parallel to the civil system in Malaysia — were becoming increasingly confident, threatening Malaysia’s status as a secular nation.
Islamic scholars have said the punishment would have been carried out with a cane that is smaller and lighter then the heavy length of rattan used in the civil justice system for rapists and murderers.
Islamic authorities triggered uproar last year when they sentenced mother-of-two Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno to six strokes of the cane after she was caught drinking beer in a hotel nightclub. Her case, which was to have been the first time a woman was caned under Islamic law in Malaysia, is still under review after she was given a last-minute reprieve amid intense media coverage.
Observers say that the dynamic of “political Islam” has escalated since 2008 elections that saw the long-serving Barisan Nasional coalition lose unprecedented ground to the three-member opposition alliance. After minority voters deserted the coalition, its lead party the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) is now vying with the conservative Islamic party PAS, an opposition member, for the votes of Malays.