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Amnesty demands action on Malaysian caning 'epidemic'

by Staff Writers
Kuala Lumpur (AFP) Dec 6, 2010
Caning in Malaysia has "hit epidemic proportions" with thousands of people subjected every year to beatings which leave permanent physical and mental scars, Amnesty International said Monday.

The London-based rights group called on the Malaysian government to immediately end the practice of judicial caning, which is meted out for immigration offences as well as more serious crimes like murder and rape.

"Caning in Malaysia has hit epidemic proportions," said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific director.

"In every case that we examined, the punishment amounted to torture, which is absolutely prohibited under any circumstances."

Amnesty said in a report that since 2002, when parliament made immigration violations subject to caning, thousands of migrant workers and foreigners seeking asylum had undergone the punishment.

"According to our figures, more than 10,000 people are caned by authorities in Malaysia annually and this number is actually a conservative estimate," said report author Lance Lattig.

"At the very least, we would say the government should issue a moratorium on the caning of anyone who is seeking asylum because they are at risk of persecution in another country," he told a press conference.

Lattig said caning was introduced by British colonial authorities prior to Malaysia's independence in 1957 but that most former colonies had abandoned the practice.

"It exists as a residue of an extremely brutal form of Victorian punishment that exists in very few other places," he said.

The report detailed how in Malaysian prisons "specially trained caning officers tear into victims' bodies with a metre-long cane swung with both hands at high speed."

"The cane rips into the victim's naked skin, pulps the fatty tissue below, and leaves scars that extend to muscle fibre. The pain is so severe that victims often lose consciousness."

Amnesty said that prison officers were paid a bonus for each stroke, enabling them to double their income by administering the punishment.

"Others take bribes to intentionally miss, sparing their victims," it said.

Malaysian home ministry and prison officials declined to comment on the report when contacted by AFP on Monday.

Corporal punishment has become a hot topic in Malaysia, particularly after a a Muslim mother-of-two was sentenced to six strokes and a fine last year for drinking alcohol.

However, caning for religious offences -- ordered by Islamic courts which run in parallel with civil courts in the Muslim-majority country -- is much lighter than in the civil justice system.

Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno's sentence for drinking alcohol was eventually reduced to community service but three other women then received between four and six strokes of the cane after being convicted of sex outside marriage.

The penalties triggered uproar among women's activists and human rights advocates.

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