Malaysian state introduces public canings for those who break Sharia law

Politicians and human rights campaigners condemn the decision

Will Worley
Thursday 13 July 2017 13:47 BST
Canings are also carried out under Sharia law in the neighbouring country of Indonesia
Canings are also carried out under Sharia law in the neighbouring country of Indonesia

A state in Malaysia has introduced public canings for people who break Sharia law, despite strong criticism from politicians and rights campaigners.

The Islamist PAS party approved the law in the Kelatan state assembly, where they are the ruling party.

Unlike the majority of the Malaysia, the northern province already has strict Sharia laws in place including a ban on nightclubs and cinemas.

Islamic law is followed throughout the country but it is usually restricted to personal and family issues.

The majority of people in Kelantan are Muslims but there are also Christians, Buddhists and Hindus.

Caning was introduced as part of an effort to streamline sentencing under Islamic criminal law, according to the Bernama state news agency.

It "can now be carried out inside or outside of prison," said Kelantan deputy chief minister Mohd Amar Nik Abdullah. "This is in line with the religion, which requires that sentencing must be done in public."

It was unclear which crimes will be punishable with caning, but it is thought that adultery and drinking alcohol will be included.

The view that caning was in line with Islam was met with criticism from the Sisters In Islam (SII), a women’s rights campaign group.

It said it was "appalled" by the decision, in a statement.

“We demand for the Kelantan state government to reveal to us where exactly in the Holy Quran does it command punishments such as public caning,” said SII.

They said caning was a form of torture and a “deplorable” method of humiliating people.

“Any laws passed under the name of Islam must take into account the most fundamental teachings of the Quran based on justice and mercy and the right to preserve human dignity,” the statement added.

Rachel Chhoa-Howard, Malaysia Researcher at Amnesty International, said: “Caning is a cruel form of ill-treatment that may amount to torture, and is prohibited under international law in all circumstances.

“It is outrageous that the local government in Kelantan is even looking to turn it into a public spectacle. Authorities across Malaysia must immediately repeal any laws that impose punitive caning.”

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Ti Lian Ker, a member of the Malaysian Chinese Association, part of the ruling coalition, said public canings were unconstitutional under federal criminal law.

"This is a rewriting of our legal system and spells a bleak future for the nation," he said in a statement.

Prominent lawyer-turned-politician Zaid Ibrahim, of the Democratic Action Party, also opposed the measure.

“They know they are going to lose in Kelantan in the next election, so they are desperate to show off their so-called Islamic image,” Mr Ibrahim told local news outlets.

Deputy Prime Minister Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi suggested to reporters the law may only apply to Muslims in Kelantan.

Meanwhile, Tourism and Culture Minister Nazri Abdul Aziz said the law would be unlikely to affect tourists, as most visitors chose to go to other parts of the country.

"If they are worried about it, then don't go to Kelantan,” Mr Aziz said, according to Malaysiakini.

Public caning is already carried out in the neighbouring country of Indonesia, where Sharia law has been established on Aceh Province. Women there have reportedly been caned for being seen with men who were not their husbands.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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