A Muslim model who is to be caned for drinking alcohol said she is planning a pilgrimage to Mecca and seeking solace in prayer as she prepares to face her punishment this week.
Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno, 32, will be the first woman to be caned under Islamic law in Malaysia, a moderate Muslim-majority country where the landmark case is a national sensation.
She was sentenced to six strokes after pleading guilty to drinking alcohol at a hotel nightclub last year, and is expected to receive her punishment this week at a women’s prison in Kajang, south of the capital Kuala Lumpur.
Kartika cried when the verdict was handed down last month, but in an interview at her home in a small Malay village, the slim and soft-spoken Kartika was composed about her fate.
“Sometimes I feel sad and stressed as I have tarnished my family’s name. But now after spending time reading the Koran, I feel calm and am not afraid of being caned,” she said.
The part-time model and mother of two, who lives in neighboring Singapore, has called for her punishment to be carried out in public but it is not clear exactly how it will be conducted.
Officials from the Shariah religious court are expected to detain Kartika today and take her to prison, where she will undergo a medical check.
“I do not know how the caning will be done. No one seems to have any details,” she said.
Islamic scholars have backed the sentence, and said it would be carried out when she was fully clothed and with a cane that is smaller and lighter than the heavy length of rattan used in criminal cases.
Malaysia, a multicultural country with large Chinese and Indian communities, has a dual-track legal system. Shariah courts can try Muslims for religious and moral offenses.
Human rights group Amnesty International has urged Malaysia not to carry out the sentence and to abolish the “cruel and degrading punishment.”
Critics say the unprecedented caning will damage Malaysia’s international standing as a progressive and moderate Islamic country.
Dressed in a light blue baju kurung, a flowing traditional outfit worn by many Muslim women in Malaysia, Kartika said she never expected the court to impose the sentence.
“But I accept it as consuming alcohol is the mother of all sins for a Muslim,” she said.
Sitting between her doting father Shukarno Mutalib, 60, and her 56-year-old mother Badariah Mior Salim, Kartika said her family and the 500 people of their village in Perak state have rallied around her.
As she gazed across the fast-moving Perak River and the lush Titiwangsa Range, which is the backbone of the Malaysian peninsula, a red-eyed Kartika was hugged by her parents.
“I was initially angry. But I did not scold her,” said Shukarno, who operates a lodge by the Perak River in nearby Jawa village.
“I believe my daughter is the chosen one by Allah to remind Muslims not to drink. I heard many [Muslims] were arrested for beer drinking that night but were mysteriously freed,” he said with a smile.
Shukarno said his eight other children were keeping Kartika cheerful by telling her jokes and praying regularly during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
“She is strong and is ready to accept the caning. But many people warn me that she will be traumatized. So we have a plan to send her to Mecca to overcome her painful ordeal,” he said.
Alcohol is widely available in Malaysia but is theoretically forbidden for Muslim Malays, who make up 60 percent of the population. Malays can be fined, jailed up to three years or given six strokes of the cane for drinking alcohol, but prosecutions are extremely rare.