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Issue No: 137
September 26, 2009

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Human Rights Monitor

Malaysia sentences under shariah law for drinking alcohol

Amnesty International has repeated its call for Malaysia to stop using the penalty of caning altogether, after a court on Monday sentenced an Indonesian Muslim man to six strokes of the cane and a year in prison for drinking alcohol in a restaurant in Pahang state during August.

Nazarudin Kamaruddin, 46, has been remanded in prison since being charged with the offence on 2 September. He has been unable to post bail or pay a fine imposed by the court.

His sentence comes less than two months after the same Shariah High Court in Pahang sentenced a Muslim woman, Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno, to six strokes of the cane and fined her RM5,000 (approximately US$ 1,400) after she pleaded guilty to consuming alcohol in a hotel bar in December 2007.

"These cases highlight the epidemic of caning in Malaysia," said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific director. "Since 2002, more than 35,000 people have been caned or flogged, most of them irregular migrants."

The same judge who presided in Nazarudin's case had also threatened to jail Kartika for three years if she did not pay the RM 5,000 fine, which she subsequently paid.

Initially Pahang authorities said that Kartika's sentence would be delayed until after Ramadan, around the 20 September.

The government then deferred the caning until the sentence is reviewed by the Shariah Court of Appeal in Pahang.

She has not appealed against her sentence. If the caning goes ahead, she will be the first woman in Malaysia to be punished in such a way.

In June 2009, the Malaysian government announced that they had sentenced 47,914 migrants to be caned for immigration offences since amendments to its Immigration Act came into force in 2002. At least 34,923 migrants have been caned between 2002 and 2008, according to the country's prison department records.

Amnesty International has also called for the government to repeal all laws providing for caning and all other forms of corporal punishment.

"Caning is a form of cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment and is prohibited under international human rights law," said Sam Zarifi. "The Malaysian government should do all it can to stop this inhumane punishment being used in any circumstance."

Caning is currently used as a supplementary punishment for at least 40 crimes in Malaysia, but Nazarudin's sentence is only the second time it has been used against anyone found guilty of violating the country's religious laws. The Shariah law applies only to Muslims, who make up 60 percent of the country's 28 million.

Source: Amnesty International.


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