A Malaysian Cabinet minister praised an Islamic court for indefinitely suspending the caning of a woman found guilty of drinking beer and said the sentence made the country appear cruel.
The chief judge of Pahang state's Shariah court decided Monday to defer the caning of 32-year-old Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno pending a review, as it was deemed too extreme, Women, Family and Community Development Minister Shahrizat Abdul Jalil said.
"I am impressed with, and commend, the chief judge's wisdom for making the order of revision," Ms Shahrizat told reporters. She said the sentence had projected a "cruel image" of Malaysia.
Malaysia's home minister indicated the caning - which had been expected to be administered this week - was unlikely to be carried out, arguing that the prisons department did not have staff with the expertise to administer the caning according to Shariah laws.
The developments will likely defuse growing consternation in Malaysia over the unusual sentencing, which if carried out would have made Ms Kartika, a part-time model and mother of two, the first woman to be caned under Islamic law in the country.
Ms Kartika was arrested by Islamic morality police for drinking beer at a beach resort in Pahang in December 2007.
Her plight has drawn international attention to the use of Islamic laws and raised questions whether a radical brand of Islam is taking root in the traditionally moderate Muslim-majority country.
Malaysia's Muslims, who make up 60% of the country's 27 million people, are prohibited from drinking alcohol under the Shariah laws they are subject to.
The offence is punishable by up to three years in prison and caning but most offenders have been let off with a fine in the past.
Ethnic Chinese and Indian citizens of Malaysia are allowed to consume alcohol and are not subject to Shariah laws, only civil laws.
The sentence Ms Kartika received shocked many people, including Muslim leaders and commentators in Malaysia, even though authorities had said she would receive a very light caning while remaining clothed.
Men convicted of crimes such as rape and bribery in Malaysia are caned on their bare buttocks, breaking the skin and leaving permanent scars.