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Amid furor, Malaysia delays woman's caning

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Mark Baker/AP

(Read caption) Muslim model Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno (r.), who was to be caned, leaves a police interview room after giving a statement at the Kuala Kangsar police station, Malaysia, on Monday.

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A Malaysian Muslim woman due to be caned after being caught drinking alcohol in public has been given a temporary reprieve. Authorities said Monday that the order handed down by an Islamic court had been delayed until the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.

Kartika Shukarno, a part-time model who was caught drinking, did not appeal her original sentence and said she wanted to go through with the punishment as a deterrent to other Muslims. She even requested a public caning, which was turned down.

But her case has stirred a debate in Malaysia over the use of Islamic laws that operate in parallel to Malaysia’s secular justice system. She would be the first woman to be caned in a country that still uses corporal punishment for many criminal offenses.

Some observers claimed that fierce competition between political parties ahead of a state by-election Tuesday was to blame. Parties that claim to represent Malay-Muslims, the largest voting bloc, typically try to assert their Islamic credentials in such races.

But the by-election campaign in Penang state has largely focused on other issues, including the dubious qualifications of the pro-government candidate.

Fines for drinking

Muslims in Malaysia who are caught drinking alcohol are usually fined, as was Ms. Kartika. Caning is highly unusual.

Lawyers have complained that Islamic courts are increasingly assertive and that non-Muslims aren’t protected by civil courts in cases where civil and Islamic law come into conflict, like custody battles.

In the case of Kartika, the Islamic court had the final say. But the media furor has focused more on who she is – a photogenic young woman – and the severity of her sentence than on the knottier question about how justice works in Malaysia.

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