KUALA LUMPUR: A Malaysian state controlled by a Muslim party Wednesday overhauled its Islamic laws to allow caning in public, prompting criticism that the move was against the constitution.
The state legislature in Kelantan, which is governed by the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), approved amendments to its sharia regulations to allow the punishment.
Caning could already be meted out as a punishment for Muslims under Islamic law in Malaysia, but not in public.
PAS has been pushing to introduce a tough Islamic criminal code, known as hudud, in the northeastern state that includes penalties such as amputations for theft and stoning to death for adultery.
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.
“It is in accordance with religious requirements… because the sharia punishments must be executed in public,” he was cited as saying by state news agency Bernama.
Over 60 percent of multi-ethnic Malaysia’s 32 million inhabitants are Muslim but a traditionally tolerant brand of Islam has been eroded in recent years as conservative attitudes have gained ground.
The public caning in Kelantan would apply to issues ruled on by Islamic courts.
Malaysia operates a dual-track legal system and Islamic courts can handle religious and family matters such as divorce, custody and inheritance for Muslims, as well as cases such as adultery.
However caning is rarely handed down under Islamic law.
Criminal cases are dealt with under federal law, where caning is also a punishment, and is carried out in prison.
But the Malaysian Chinese Association, an ethnic Chinese party in the ruling coalition, said that conducting 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.