Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno is now an international media personality, not just because of her striking name, but because she wants to be caned. She did not know at the time of her arrest two years ago for drinking beer at a nightclub in Pahang that she would be catapulted to such international fame.She attracted media attention last month when she was ordered to receive six strokes of the rotan by the Syariah High Court in Kuantan, making her the first woman in Malaysia to be handed down that punishment. She was also fined RM5,000 which she paid but refused to appeal against the caning.
Had she appealed she would probably have been spared the lashes and she would have slipped back into her mundane existence as a model, a wife and a mother and the world would not know of her. Instead the Muslim woman said she had repented and wanted to be punished for drinking alcohol which is prohibited by Islam.
She requested that the punishment be meted out in public so that she would be an example to others. Since then she has been under the glare of local and international media where some commentators expressed surprise that it was happening in “moderate Malaysia”.
On Monday, while being transported to Kajang Prison where she was to be caned, the religious authorities decided to postpone her caning to after Ramadan. It was not a reprieve for her but it was for the authorities who are responsible for the state of affairs to have reached this far and which now threaten the image of Malaysia as “a moderate Muslim country” where Islam Hadhari (civilisational Islam) rules.
If Kartika was striking back against the syariah administrators for making public her indiscretion she could not have done it in a better way than by refusing to appeal. The media glare that she has attracted is now more focused on the country’s lawmakers, who through being inattentive, have allowed such laws to be enacted without much scrutiny and debate. It is as if those who are in favour of those laws that had caused much anguish to Kartika had stolen a march on them.
It is because of the many stolen marches that it is now no longer correct to say that the various state constitutions are truly secular. The postponement should provide the authorities time to deal with the situation, without sacrificing too much of the moderate standing that Malaysia had been building on over the years, should Kartika maintain her refusal to appeal. For the future everyone should be vigilant against attempts to enact laws that can be a source of inconvenience to all Malaysians. The Sun