A religious school cook in Malaysia was sentenced to six strokes of the cane and a year in jail for drinking alcohol, an official said yesterday, the latest in a series of harsh punishments from an Islamic court judge.
The rulings by Judge Abdul Rahman Mohamad Yunos have focused attention on the increasing enforcement of the stricter punishment prescribed by Islamic laws and raised fears that Malaysia — a traditionally moderate country — may be influenced by radical Islamists.
Consuming alcohol in public is an offense for Malaysian Muslims, who are 60 percent of the country’s 28 million people. Offenders are usually warned or fined, but not in Abdul Rahman’s court, the Shariah High Court in Pahang state.
In the latest case, he sentenced Mohamad Sabri Zulkepli, 24, to jail and six cane strokes on Wednesday.
The cook at a Muslim school pleaded guilty to drinking liquor at a mall in Pahang on Feb. 13, said Mohamad Azhari Abdul Rahman, the court’s chief registrar.
The Star and New Straits Times newspapers quoted the judge as saying that a jail sentence was better than a fine because Mohamad Sabri couldn’t afford to use up his small earnings. He was also quoted as saying that the offender could get “proper guidance” and repent in jail.
“The accused can use the time spent in jail to reflect on how to lead a better life,” the Star quoted him as saying.
Mohamad Sabri — who could have been jailed for up to three years — has been in prison since his arrest in February, and plans to appeal his sentence, said Mohamad Azhari, the court official.
Last year, judge Abdul Rahman sentenced an Indonesian Muslim man to a year in prison and six strokes of the cane for drinking liquor at a restaurant.
But what brought him the most notoriety was the case of Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno, a former model and mother of two, who was caught drinking beer at a beach resort restaurant in Pahang last year. She was the first woman to face caning in Malaysia, and the case provoked a widespread uproar among women’s activists, newspaper columnists and liberal Muslims.
Possibly mindful of the negative publicity Malaysia was receiving internationally, the state’s sultan, the titular ruler, commuted Kartika’s sentence earlier this month and asked her to perform three weeks of community service.
However, three other Muslim women were caned in February for having sex out of wedlock.
Malaysia follows a dual track justice system. Muslims are governed by Islamic laws and can be tried only in Shariah courts.
More than a third of the population is non-Muslim, and Islamic laws don’t apply to them, but they also complain that their rights are increasingly under threat, especially in disputes with Muslims. Malaysia set up an interfaith committee to tackle such conversion and other disputes on Tuesday.
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