Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno was to be caned with six lashes on Thursday, April 1, 2010. But there was no caning. No folks, this is no April Fool’s Day joke. On Wednesday, March 31, 2010 Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno received a letter from the Sultan of Pahang commuting the caning sentence to a 3-week community service punishment.
Shukarno Abdul Mutalib, the father of Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno said: “The Sultan has decided that the caning sentence will be substituted with a three-week community service at a children’s home in Pahang from April 2.”
Shukarno Abdul Mutalib said: “I respect the sultan’s decision. We will abide by the order. I have also been asked to present my daughter before the religious authorities on Friday for her to undergo a three week punishment, but we do not know yet whether it will be community service or detention.”
Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno is a Malaysian citizen married to a Singapore citizen. They were working and residing in Singapore. On July 11, 2008 Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno and her husband were caught drinking alcohol at a resort in the popular Cherating beach in Pahang.
Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno was subsequently charged in the Kuantan Syariah High Court. She pleaded guilty, was fined RM5,000 and given six strokes of the cane. She paid the fine, and was all ready to receive her caning punishment.
Until Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno’s case, Muslim women given caning sentences have always appealed such sentences, and almost as a matter of routine, such caning sentences would be substituted with some other punishment when the appeal is heard.
However, Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno had refused to file an appeal against the caning sentence. Moreover she wanted the caning sentence to be carried out speedily and in public to serve as a warning to other Muslim women not to repeat her offense. So suddenly, Malaysia faced a real prospect of caning a Muslim woman for the first time in the history of the nation.
This possibility brought about an outcry from women advocacy groups, human rights groups, NGOs, and even cabinet ministers and state officials. Some groups, including those from within the Malaysian Government, felt that the caning sentence was too harsh, especially since Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno was a first offender who pleaded guilty. Then there were others who argued that Syariah Law and the Syariah Court must be respected. Yet others looked at this from the legal aspect, questioning whether it is legally permissible to cane a woman when the Civil Laws prohibit it. In the heat of the arguement, several police reports were made by one group against another.
Then there is another legal aspect to this case. Caning sentences are carried out by the prison authorities. But prison rules stipulate that caning can only be carried out on prisoners. The legal problem is that Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno was never sentenced to a prison term.
And so the caning sentence on Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno, scheduled for last August, was postponed on the ground that it was not appropriate to cane her during the month of Ramadan last year. But Ramadan came and went, and there was no news of when Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno would be caned.
All this waiting had caused untold stresses for Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno. While she remained in Malaysia to await her caning sentence, her husband had to return to Singapore for work. The long separation finally resulted in the breakdown of the marriage. Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno found herself divorced from her husband.
Then last month Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno requested, and was granted, a royal audience with the Pahang crown prince, Tengku Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, who is also the chairman of the state religious council. At that meeting, Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno did not appeal the caning sentence. Instead she asked for it to be expedited to relieve the stresses in her life. And now, the Sultan of Pahang had acted to commute the caning sentence on Kartika Sari Dewi Shukanor into a period of community service.
Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno has 2 children. Her son has cerebral palsy while her daughter has a heart condition. Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno had to work to supplement her husband’s income in raising these 2 children. She worked previously as a nurse in Singapore, and later, as a part time model. That’s why she did not want the case to drag on any longer, as she just wanted to carry on with her life.
So what does Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno think of this latest development? Shukarno Abdul Mutalib said: “Kartika was expecting a caning, she is surprised by this development as she will be separated from her children for three weeks, but we respect the Sultan’s decision. Kartika will go on with her life.”
Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno was going to be the first Malaysian woman to be caned, but now she won’t be caned. Instead that dubious honor went to 3 unnamed Muslim women who were secretly caned in prison last February. They were serving prison terms for having illicit sex resulting in childbirth out of wedlock.
Think about it. By commuting the caning sentence on Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno, the Sultan of Pahang has achieved 3 things. First, he showed that he, as Sultan, has the power to vary a punishment handed down by the Syariah High Court even without an appeal being lodged by Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno. Secondly, by commuting the caning sentence, the Sultan got around the objection of those who said that Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno cannot be caned by the prison authorities because she has never been sentenced to a prison term. Thirdly, the Sultan placated those who feel that the caning sentence on Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno is just too harsh. At the same time, the secret caning of the 3 Muslim prisoners jailed for having illicit sex also serves to placate those who feel that Syariah law and the decisions of the Syariah Court should be respected, notwithstanding that caning a woman is against Civil Law in Malaysia.
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