For the first time, Malaysian authorities have caned three Muslim women under Islamic law for acts of adultery, the country’s national news agency Bernama reported Feb. 17. Home Minister Hishamuddin Hussein said the punishment was carried out Feb. 9 at a women’s prison near Kuala Lumpur, “to educate and make the offenders realize their mistakes and to return to the right path.”
“It is hoped that the issue will not be wrongly interpreted to the extent of tarnishing the sanctity of Islam,” Hussein was quoted as saying, adding that the punishment did not cause any injury and that the women were remorseful and repented, Bernama reported.
Malaysia has a dual justice system, in which Islamic courts operate alongside civil ones. Muslims make up about 60% of the country’s population of 28 million. In a case that sparked a national outrage last year, a woman was sentenced to caning under Islamic law for drinking alcohol in public—beer at a hotel bar. Malaysia forbids alcohol consumption by Muslims, even those just visiting the country.
The caning sentence of Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno has been postponed while the issue is under review. She says that if she is to be caned, she wants it to occur in public. “Let’s be transparent about it,” said Kartika, a mother and part-time model. An Islamic court also fined her $1,400 for the act. She pleaded guilty and paid the fine.
The canings were denounced by Amnesty International official Lance Lattig as “tantamount to torture,” saying the group considers the practice to be “cruel, inhumane and degrading.” Amnesty said there is an “epidemic” of caning for minor offenses—mostly immigration violations—in Malaysia. According to Lattig, some 35,000 people have been caned in Malaysia since 2002. (Radio Australia, Feb. 19; CNN, Feb. 17)