Human rights groups condemn Malaysia’s caning-Asian Correspondent

February 23, 2010

Rights groups slam Malaysia caning of Muslim women

Asian Correspondent: February 18, 2010

Human rights groups on Thursday condemned the caning of three Muslim women for having extramarital sex, the first time the punishment has been carried out in Malaysia.

The women were caned at a women’s prison near Kuala Lumpur on Feb. 9 after being convicted in an Islamic Shariah court of having sex outside of marriage.

Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein announced the punishment Wednesday, reviving speculation that conservative Islamists, who advocate harsh punishment, are gaining influence.

In a statement received Thursday, London-based Amnesty International urged Malaysia to end caning, calling it cruel and degrading.

“The Malaysian government needs to abolish this cruel and degrading punishment, no matter what the offense,” said Donna Guest, the group’s deputy Asia-Pacific director.

Sisters in Islam, a local group of Muslim women activists, said it was shocked that the caning was carried out without any public notice and said the punishment constituted discrimination against Muslim women in the country, since civil law — which applies to non-Muslims — bans the caning of women.

Malaysia has insisted that caning is an effective deterrent. Hishammuddin, the home minister, said the women had accepted the punishment and repented.

“Although the caning did not result in any wound on their bodies, they admitted it had a deep impact on them. They hope other women would refrain from doing things, which are against Islam,” he said in a statement.

Home Ministry officials did not describe where on their bodies the women were caned, but authorities have previously said that women would be hit with a thin stick on the back in a largely symbolic punishment without causing real physical pain.

Men are routinely caned for such offenses as rape and drug smuggling with thick rattan sticks on bare buttocks, causing the skin to break and leave scars. Amnesty International says Malaysia has caned more than 35,000 people since 2002, mostly foreigners for entering or staying in Malaysia illegally.

The issue of caning women became relevant last year when another woman, Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno, was sentenced to caning for drinking beer in public. But authorities deferred the caning indefinitely amid a public outcry although Kartika urged them to carry out the punishment so that she can move on with her life.

“I’m puzzled … Why are they delaying my case?” the 33-year-old mother of two said Thursday.

Malaysia follows a dual-track justice system. Shariah laws administer personal matters for Muslims, who account for 60 percent of the country’s 28 million people, while civil laws apply to non-Muslims — many of who are ethnic Chinese and Indians.

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