Malaysia canes women for having sex out of wedlock

KUALA LUMPUR Wed Feb 17, 2010 7:08pm IST

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KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysian authorities have caned three women under Islamic laws for the first time in the Southeast Asian country, the interior minister said on Wednesday.

Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said the sentences were carried out on February 9 after a religious court found them guilty of having sex out of wedlock. Two of the women were whipped six times.

"It was carried out perfectly."" Hishammuddin said in a statement. "Even though the caning did not injure them (the women), they said it caused pain within them."

Hishammuddin's comments signal that the mostly Muslim country is now prepared to flog Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno, a mother of two, for drinking beer, despite the international criticism that the case has garnered.

That case has put the multi-racial but mostly Muslim country's moderate image under scrutiny at a time when it is trying to draw in investors. Investors in New York last year asked Prime Minister Najib Razak about the Kartika case.

Malaysia has a dual-track legal system with Islamic criminal and family laws, which are applicable to Muslims, running alongside civil laws.

Hishammuddin said Kartika's case had flagged concerns about how women should be flogged and that the recent canings demonstrated that the prisons department can carry out punishments in accordance with Shariah (Islamic) law.

Under these laws, the women have to be whipped in a seated position by a female prison guard and be fully clothed.

Sex out of marriage is considered illegal under Islamic law and punishments can range from a fine to six strokes of the cane or both.

The canings come at a time when the National Front Coalition is trying to win over Malay Muslims who make up 55 percent of the 28 million population to stay in power after Chinese and Indian minorities deserted the coalition in 2008 elections.

That means that the linchpin of the governing coalition, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), cannot afford to offend conservative voters who are mostly Malay and live in rural areas.

But this could further alienate the sizeable ethnic minorities who are concerned about the rise of Shariah laws and increasing Islamisation in Malaysia, analysts have previously said.

(Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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