By Beh Lih Yi

JAKARTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A Malaysian man who avoided prison after being charged with raping a 14-year-old girl will face a retrial next year, according to his lawyer in the case that has sparked condemnation from women's rights groups.

Ahmad Syukri Yusuf, 22, was charged with statutory rape of the girl last year and faced up to 30 years in jail and whipping for the offense. But he later married the teenager - who is now 15 - under Islamic law and the complaint was dropped.

A court ruled in July there was no need to proceed with the case after Ahmad Syukri submitted a marriage certificate.

His lawyer Azam Trudin said a court in Malaysia's eastern state of Sarawak fixed the start of the re-trial for March 27 next year, adding that he would seek to have the decision for a retrial overturned.

"I will submit an application to withdraw the charge. The retrial will be repetitive (to what has been tried)," Azam told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, adding that he was unsure whether there will be any new witnesses testifying.

Ahmad Syukri and wife were both present in court during the proceeding, Azam said.

Women's rights groups criticized the previous court ruling to drop the case, saying rape suspects should be barred from marrying their victims and child marriage should be banned.

Under Malaysia's civil laws, the legal minimum age for marriage is 18 but Muslim girls who are under 16 can obtain permission to marry from Islamic courts.

Ethnic Malays, who are Muslim, make up about 60 percent of the country's population of 30 million.

(Reporting by Beh Lih Yi @behlihyi, Editing by Katie Nguyen.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)