KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — A judge in Malaysia has upheld a court verdict to cane a Muslim woman for drinking beer, news reports said Monday, re-igniting a controversy over Islamic justice in this moderate Muslim-majority country.
The Star newspaper's Web site and national news agency Bernama said the chief Shariah judge of Pahang state ruled that a Shariah High Court's verdict against Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno, 32, was correct and should stay.
If the punishment is carried out, Kartika would become the first Muslim woman to be caned in Malaysia, where about 60 percent of the 28 million people are Muslims. No date was immediately set for the caning.
Kartika, a former model and nurse, was sentenced in July 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 in violation of Islamic laws. Islam forbids Muslims from drinking alcohol.
Kartika, who pleaded guilty, refused to appeal her sentence and was on the verge of being caned on Aug. 24. But the punishment was halted at the last minute following an uproar in the media and among rights activists.
Instead, the government asked the Shariah High Court Appeals Panel in Kuantan, the capital of Pahang, to review the verdict.
"I found that the High Court Judge had acted accordingly within his jurisdiction as provided" by relevant laws of Pahang state, Pahang Shariah Chief Judge Abdul Hamid Abdul Rahman told The Star.
"As such, the decision stays," he was quoted as saying.
He said it was now up to the Pahang Islamic Religious Department to implement the punishment. The department's officials, who are like morality police, routinely conduct raids to catch people violating Islamic laws but most perpetrators are usually let off with fines.
Kartika has said previously she is ready to be caned.
The caning would be done with a thin stick on the back and would be largely symbolic rather than aimed at causing pain, unlike the caning of rapists and drug smugglers with a thick rattan stick on bare buttocks that causes the skin to break and leave scars.
But activists say even a gentle caning raises the broader question of whether such Islamic laws should intrude into Muslims' private lives and whether radical Islam is creeping into the judiciary.
Malaysia follows a dual-track justice system. Shariah laws apply to Muslims in all personal matters. Non-Muslims – Chinese, Indians, Sikhs and other minorities – 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.