Kelantan’s Legislative Assembly introduces public caning

The northeastern state’s ruling Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) proposed the measure to let Sharia courts decide whether caning is carried out in prison or in public. PAS wants to introduce a tough Islamic criminal code. The local Chinese ethnic party calls it a "very dangerous trend".

Kota Baru (AsiaNews/Agencies) – On Wednesday, the State Legislative Assembly of Kelantan (north-eastern Malaysia) passed an amended Sharia bill that includes for public caning, sparking controversy and charges of unconstitutionality.

The bill was proposed by the ruling Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (Parti Islam Se-Malaysia, PAS). Women, Family and Welfare committee chairman Mumtaz Md Nawi supported the proposal, which was then adopted without any fuss.

PAS has been pushing to introduce a tough Islamic criminal code, known as hudud, that includes penalties such as amputations for theft and stoning to death for adultery.

In 2015, the Assembly had approved a law imposing hudud but it was not enforced because it violated the Malaysian federal constitution.

After Wednesday's vote, Kelantan deputy chief minister Mohd Amar Nik Abdullah said it would be left to Sharia courts to decide whether the caning was carried out in prison, or publicly.

Kelantan Mufti Datuk Mohamad Shukri Mohamad said that caning in Islam was not meant to cause bodily injuries but to serve as a lesson to discourage the accused and others from repeating the offence.

Public caning in Kelantan would apply to matters under the jurisdiction of Islamic courts.

Malaysia has a dual legal system. Islamic courts rule on religious and family matters involving Muslims such as divorce, custody and inheritance as well as adultery.

Criminal offenses come instead under federal law, which authorises caning inside prisons.

Malaysian Chinese Association, an ethnic Chinese party in the ruling coalition, said that carrying out canings in public went against the federal constitution.

"PAS is setting a very dangerous trend of riding rough over the laws of the land by disregarding the federal constitution as the supreme law of the land," said the party's religious harmony bureau chairman Ti Lian Ker in a statement.

More than 60 per cent of multi-ethnic Malaysia's 32 million inhabitants are Muslim. Traditionally tolerant, Malaysian Islam has been eroded in recent years as conservative attitudes have gained ground.