updated 9/18/2009 6:57:25 AM ET 2009-09-18T10:57:25

An Islamic court has ordered an unmarried couple to be caned for trying to have sex in a car in the latest of a series of harsh punishments for Muslims in Malaysia, a lawyer said Friday.

Though Malaysia has long been upheld as an example of a moderate Muslim-majority country, recent verdicts sentencing Muslims to whipping for drinking alcohol have made headlines. Two months ago, an Islamic judge triggered a national debate when he ordered a woman to be caned for drinking beer .

In the latest case, the Shariah High Court in central Selangor state sentenced the couple Wednesday to six strokes of the cane after they pleaded guilty to trying to have sex out of wedlock in their car, said prosecutor Shafezan Rusli.

Shafezan said Islamic religious police caught Mohamad Shahrin Abdul Majid, 29, and Nadiah Najat Hussin, 24, with only their undergarments on in a car at an office parking lot in May.

Appeal looms
He said they are appealing the caning as they plan to get married soon, though they have paid the court-ordered fine of 5,000 ringgit ($1,400) each.

They could have been jailed for up to three years for the offense, the lawyer said.

Shariah laws apply to Muslims, who make up about 60 percent of the 28 million population, in all personal matters. Non-Muslims — Chinese, Indians and other minorities — are not subject to the laws.

Earlier this week, an Islamic court in another state ordered an Indonesian Muslim man to be whipped six times and jailed a year for drinking liquor at a restaurant.

In July, the same court had sentenced a Malaysian woman to six strokes of the cane and a fine for drinking beer in public. The caning, which would be the first time a Malaysian woman has received the punishment, has not been carried out yet. Many see the sentence as a setback for the country's reputation as a moderate Muslim nation.

More on: Malaysia | Sharia law

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