Kelantan approves public caning for crimes under syariah law
KUALA LUMPUR: A Malaysian state amended its Islamic laws yesterday to allow public caning, sparking criticism that the change was unconstitutional and could infringe on the rights of religious minorities.
Malay Muslims make up more than 60 per cent of Malaysia's 32 million people and attempts to implement stricter forms of syariah law in recent years have raised concerns among members of the Chinese, Indian and other minorities.
The new law was approved in the state assembly of Kelantan - governed by the conservative Islamic party PAS - where clubs and cinemas are banned.
The state has been pushing for the adoption of a strict Islamic penal code - hudud - that would provide for punishments such as stoning for adultery and amputation for theft.
The amendment allowing public caning was passed as part of an effort to streamline sentencing under Islamic criminal law, Kelantan Deputy Chief Minister Mohd Amar Nik Abdullah was quoted as saying by Bernama news agency.
"Caning can now be carried out inside or outside of prison, depending on the court's decision," Mr Mohd Amar said, according to Bernama.
"This is in line with the religion, which requires that sentencing must be done in public."
He did not say exactly what crimes would be punished by caning, but the list would likely include adultery.
Islamic law is implemented in all Malaysian states but is restricted to family issues such as divorce and inheritance, as well as syariah crimes involving Muslims, such as consuming alcohol and adultery.
Criminal cases are handled by federal law.
Mr Ti Lian Ker, a member of the Malaysian Chinese Association, part of the ruling coalition, said public caning was 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.
Last year, PAS introduced a bill that expands the powers of syariah courts and incorporates parts of hudud into the existing legal system.
The bill is expected to be debated in Parliament when it reconvenes later this month. - REUTERS