KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 25, 2009 (AFP) - Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak on Tuesday urged a Muslim model who faces being caned for drinking beer to appeal the sentence and not be "so willing" to accept her fate.
Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno, 32, won a temporary reprieve when religious officials who took her into custody ahead of the caning abruptly released her Monday and delayed the punishment until after the fasting month of Ramadan.
She was sentenced by a religious court last month to six strokes. If the punishment is carried out she would be the first woman to face caning under Islamic law in Malaysia, a moderate Muslim-majority country.
The mother-of-two has stared down religious authorities by saying she is ready to be caned, refusing to appeal against her sentence, and challenging them to cane her in public.
In an apparent attempt to defuse a furore over the case, Najib said that while he would not interfere with the Sharia courts which operate alongside the civil court system in Malaysia, there were still avenues for Kartika to appeal.
"I believe the authorities concerned are sensitive on this matter and realise the implications of this case," he told a press conference.
"I feel the person concerned should appeal to the state authorities and not be so willing to accept the punishment."
However, Kartika quickly rejected his advice and said that if the authorities did not want to go ahead with the punishment -- which has drawn international headlines -- they should say so openly.
"I won't file any appeal," she said in a telephone interview with AFP. "Carry on and cane me, don't waste my time."
"This is very strange, why are they doing this to me? Even when they decided they wanted to punish me after Ramadan, I only learnt about it through the television news."
Kartika said she had sought the advice of a judge and a religious scholar in her family's home state of Perak, who advised her to "calm down and keep quiet for the time being" while legal authorities discussed her fate.
"For me, I stick to my decision to be caned. When? That is not my decision," said the part-time model who has lived in Singapore for many years.
Human rights group Amnesty International has urged Malaysia to abolish the "cruel and degrading punishment" and critics have said the case threatens to damage Malaysia's international standing.
The conservative Islamic party PAS said Tuesday however that religious authorities should not be deterred by pressure from civil society groups, and that the thrashing should go ahead immediately.
"It would be good for Kartika if the sentence can be carried out now if she is ready to accept it, because this is the holy month of Ramadan and she will be more remorseful," PAS Youth chief Nasrudin Hassan Tantawi told AFP.
Although alcohol is widely available in Malaysia, it is forbidden for Muslim Malays, who make up 60 percent of the population. They can be fined, caned, or jailed for up to three years but prosecutions are extremely rare.
Kartika's case comes as the government of Selangor state, which surrounds the capital Kuala Lumpur, debates the availability of alcohol.
State legislator Hassan Mohammad Ali said Tuesday that mosque officials had been given the power to arrest Muslims who drink alcohol and violate other Islamic laws.
"The new policy allows these individuals to arrest Muslims who are caught drinking alcohol, who don't fast during the fasting month of Ramadan and many other violations of Islam including prostitution," he told AFP.
"However, we urge these new authorities not to be overzealous in carrying out their duties... as the idea of the law is to instill an Islamic way of life for Muslims and not to create fear for Muslims and non-Muslims."