Wong Choon Mei
KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 19: PAS leaders defended the use of Syariah law and punishment but condemned the ruling Umno party for abusing its practice in the recent caning of three women found guilty of engaging in illicit sex.
“Hardly anyone has heard of these three women before? The Home Minister just announced it out of the blue,” Dr Syed Azman, head of PAS international affairs, told Harakahdaily.
“So what is happening? We have heard of Kartika and beer, we have heard of Anwar Ibrahim and qazaf, but in the end, the ones that the government went after – quietly, you could say secretly – were these three women.
“We hope Umno is not playing politics with Islam again. Najib and Hishammuddin took a blow over the Allah issue, Muhyiddin and Khairy over Prophet’s march in Penang. We hope Umno is not trying to toss another hot potato to PAS or is trying to show it is more Islamic than PAS. Not at the expense of the people, it should not.”
Revealed only a week later
On Wednesday, Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein announced that three Muslim women found guilty of illicit sex under the Syariah law were caned - the first time women in the country have been punished this way.
The caning was conducted at 10am more than a week ago on February 9 at the Kajang Prison. Two of the women were given six strokes of the rotan, while the third was hit four times.
“It is hoped that the issue will not be wrongly interpreted to the extent of tarnishing the sanctity of Islam. The sentence is to educate and make the offenders realise their mistakes and to return to the right path,” Hishammuddin had said.
He further boasted that the women have since repented and the caning did not leave any marks. However, he steered clear from commenting on whether this meant that Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarnor – who had been caught drinking beer – would also be caned.
Why isn't Anwar's sodomy trial under the Syariah Courts
Neither did he explain why Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim and his accuser Saiful Bukhari Azlan were not tried under Syariah law although they are both Muslims. The government is prosecuting Anwar in the civil courts for having sodomised Saiful but the trial has been condemned both locally and internationally as being rigged and politically motivated.
“If Umno is truly serious about promoting Islam as a way of life and showing the world that it is indeed a religion of justice and truth, then they should allow the Anwar sodomy trial to take place in the Syariah courts,” Dr Syed said.
“Instead, at each step of the way they have created difficulty or delayed his qazaf action. Is this because they know that based on Islamic law, they cannot simply twist a conviction from the Syariah courts?”
Meanwhile, PAS women’s chief, Nuridah Salleh, slammed Hishammuddin for conducting the caning in secrecy and only revealing it to the public a week later.
“That is not in line with Islamic principle behind the punishment. Caning is used to deter, to help the guilty party repent. It must be done openly so that others are also deterred and in the process educated to refrain from what is prohibited in our religion,” Nuridah told Harakahdaily.
Sex outside marriage and drinking alcohol are illegal in Islam.
Meanwhile, human rights groups both locally and overseas have condemned the caning as inhumane.
“The caning of these three women is just the tip of the iceberg. Since 2002 the Malaysian authorities have caned over 35,000 people, mostly non-Malaysians for immigration offenses,” Donna Guest, deputy Asia-Pacific director at Amnesty International, said in a statement.
“These thousands of cases point to an epidemic of caning in Malaysia. The Malaysian government needs to abolish this cruel and degrading punishment, no matter what the offence.”
Sisters in Islam, a Muslim rights group, accused the government of ulterior motives and of not being transparent in the entire exercise.
"We would like to know whether the men involved were also found guilty for illicit sex and similarly sentenced and caned," said SIS executive director Hamidah Marican in a press release.
Nora Murat, the executive director of Amnesty’s Malaysian chapter, said the country had taken a “regressive step” with the punishment.
“Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that the caning has to be done in public but why was the whole process done in secrecy? That itself brings a lot of questions on the legal and punishment process in this country. We are questioning that,” Nora was quoted as telling The Malaysian Insider.