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Malaysian senator fined for divorcing wife by SMS

KUALA LUMPUR, Friday (AFP) - A Malaysian Muslim senator has been fined for divorcing his wife by sending her an SMS text message and leaving a voicemail on her mobile phone, reports said Friday.

The senator, Kamaruddin Ambok, 52, was fined 550 ringgit (147 dollars) Thursday by a Islamic or sharia court for attempting to divorce his wife Mahani Hussain by phone in October 2001, instead of declaring his intentions in court.

The maximum punishment for the offence is 1,000 ringgit or six months' jail, reports said. "When you marry someone, you go through all the ... processes," said the sharia judge, Zainor Rashid Hassin, referring to ethnic Malay marriage rituals.

"Now, why can't you divorce someone properly as well," he was quoted as saying in the Star daily.

In Malaysian Islamic law, a man can divorce his wife with verbal pronouncements known as talaq in a sharia court, said reports.

The ruling comes amidst heated debate over controversial Islamic family legislation that rights groups have said undermine women's rights within a marriage.

The prosecuting sharia officer, Mohamad Yusof Sulaiman, had asked for a heavier sentence, saying it would better highlight the seriousness of the offence.

"Cases such as this are happening often these days," he said.

"Even NGOs have been critical of Islamic laws lately, especially on matrimonial matters which are said to favour certain parties."

Kamaruddin said he regretted his actions and asked for light punishment and a reduction in the sentence, said reports.

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