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WikiLeaks: How Najib overcame the Kartika dilemma

 | May 25, 2011

US diplomats stated in their confidential cable that the caning of three Muslim women for illicit sex in 2010 reflected Umno's political tactics.

KUALA LUMPUR: The caning of three Muslim women in 2010 under the syariah law for committing adultery was a tactical manoeuvre undertaken by Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s new administration to retain the conservative Malay voters, Malaysia-based US diplomats believed.

They also felt that the caning of the three women was perhaps an attempt by Najib and his party Umno to test the waters to forecast the sentiments on part-time model Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno’s caning for beer-drinking.

Kartika was found guilty by a Pahang Syariah Court in July 2009 of drinking beer at a hotel in Kuantan and was sentenced to six strokes of rotan and a fine of RM5,000.

The court’s finding to cane her attacted wide attention, both from within and internationally, and the ruling had taken place just a year after Najib had become the prime minister. While her caning was pending for months for various reasons, the three women were caned in February 2010.

“Kartika’s case put Prime Minister Najib’s new administration in the difficult position of balancing the competing forces fighting for Malaysia’s Muslim identity.

“While concerned about preserving Malaysia’s image as a moderate Muslim state, Najib has been unwilling to date to criticise syariah law or otherwise downplay the seriousness of Kartika’s offence for fear that it could damage Umno’s Islamic bona fides,” wrote a senior political officer based in the US embassy here in a confidential cable to the US State Department in Washington.

Details of the confidential cable sent in 2010 were leaked by WikiLeaks to popular blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin who had published the cable in his Malaysia Today website today.

“That the GOM (government of Malaysia) chose to cane three anonymous women, rather than the internationally renowned Kartika, seems to be a tactical manoeuvre by Umno to retain or lure back conservative Malay voters as well as perhaps a testing of the waters presaging Kartika’s caning.

“That Najib feels the need to placate the most conservative Malays suggests that his stated intent to change to a more inclusive, less Malay-centric economic and political model is facing considerable, resistance within his own coalition,” added the cable.

The cable must have been sent to the State Department immediately after the caning of the three women on Feb 9, 2010 as it makes no mention of the eventual outcome of Kartika’s case. Following the intervention of the Sultan of Pahang, Kartika’s caning sentence was eventually commuted to 20-day community service in April 2010.

The three women were sentenced to be caned for committing adultery in violation of Section 23 (2) of the Kuala Lumpur Federal Territory Syariah Criminal Offences Act of 1997.

Hisham the Islamic cleric

Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussien had announced on Feb 17, 2010, that government officials had caned three Muslims on Feb 9, 2010. The three women were believed to be the first women to be caned under the law in Malaysia.

Two of the women received six strokes of the cane and the other received four. The women were caned in a female prison.

The US cable noted that the sentencing of women to such corporal punishment under syariah law contradicts the federal law outlined in Section 289 of the Criminal Procedure Code that states that women are not to be subject to caning.

“In the current case, the three women, previously unknown to the public, were caned and the public was not informed for over a week.

“The canings were administered by federal prison officials in a federal women’s prison. This gives rise to a possible violation of federal law that the GOM has yet to explain or address,” added the cable.

The US cable also said that federal government was clearly playing a role in meting out a syariah punishment, with Hishammuddin “sounding like an Islamic cleric” in justifying the caning on the three women.

“The federal government has highlighted its role in meting out these sentences, indicating that the decision had Najib’s support.

“Hishammuddin placed himself at the forefront of this issue, announcing on Feb 17 that the women had been caned, commenting that ‘the punishment is to teach and give a chance to those who have fallen off the path to return and build a better life for the future,’ sounding much like an Islamic cleric,” said the cable.

The US diplomats noted in the cable that Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin also failed to address the legal issue surrounding the caning of the three women, and had instead focused “on the need to explain that syariah caning is ritualistic rather than severe”.

The cable further pointed out that the federal government’s role in caning the Muslim women was also evident in a statement issued by minister in charge of religious affairs Jamil Khir Baharom who had reportedly said that the women were remorseful and “welcomed their sentence”.

Women, Family, and Community Development Minister Shahrizat Jalil was also reported to have said: “As the minister in charge of women affairs in this country, I really hope that the whipping sentence on Muslim women will be carried out fairly and judiciously.”

Also read:

The cable as published in Malaysia Today


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