Sunday, December 12, 2010

Malaysia practicing torture through judicial caning

By Subir Ghosh.

The pain shot up to his head faster than he could think. It seemed like a powerful electric shock. Hussain, a 26-year-old, still doesn't have words for it. He got just one, and couldn't take it. Hussain is a victim of Malaysia's judicial caning.
Across the Southeast Asian country, government officials rampantly resort to this tactic for torture. The metre-long rattan canes, swishing into the flesh of prisoners up to 160 kilometres per hour, tears into the naked flesh of prisoners, turning the fatty tissues into pulp. The scars are permanent and lacerate deep, almost into the muscle fibres. The gruesome form of torture equally painstakingly shielded from public gaze. The revelation, in the form of an Amnesty International report A blow to humanity: Torture by judicial caning in Malaysia, also recounts in horrific detail the pain inflicted on prisoners. Most lose consciousness, suffer disabilities in the weeks that follow, and can never get over the trauma ― the mental scars linger on. As many as 10,000 people have to endure judicial caning in Malaysia every year. Many are foreign nationals. The cruelty of police officers not only goes unpunished, the Malaysian government even goes to the extent of training them to subject prisoners to this form of torture. What's more, they are paid a bonus for each stroke. Since the 1990s, the range of offences subject to criminal caning has widened. Today, the number of penal offences in Malaysia subject to caning is 60. Since 2002, when the country's Parliament made immigration violations such as illegal entry too subject to caning, tens of thousands of refugees and migrant workers have been caned, the report says. While some officials double their take-home with ruthless precision, there are others who take it from victims or their families for giving a stroke a miss. Doctors are around, but not so much to treat victims. They, in fact, examine prisoners and certify them to be fit for caning. If and when victims pass ot during the torture, the state-employed doctors revive the prisoners so that they can complete the rest of the punishment. Judicial caning is a legacy of the British era. It was introduced by British colonial officials, who imposed the Indian Penal Code on the Straits Settlements in 1870, after which it spread to the Malay peninsula. Both the UK and India have long abolished caning, but it is still practised in a number of former colonies including Singapore. The UN Human Rights Council, to which Malaysia was elected in 2009, says “corporal punishment … can be tantamount to torture,” but the rule of law in the country suggests otherwise. Under international law, corporal punishment is not a lawful sanction. Malaysia's judiciary not only fails to protect prisoners from this form of torture, it in fact provides state agents with authorisation to inflict it. Fahmi, a 30-year-old Indonesian migrant, was stopped at a police roadblock while riding his motorcycle near Kuala Lumpur earlier this year. When he said that he did not have his passport with him, he was taken to the police station. He had this to tellAmnesty International:
“They beat me in the police station. They told me I have no right to stay in Malaysia. Two policemen beat both my feet with a truncheon, and broke my ankle bone. I spent three days in the hospital…. They called me a foreign bastard [and said] ‘How dare I drive a motorbike in Malaysia!’ I had a license. They tried to make me confess that my bike’s indicators weren’t working properly.… They took 2,000 ringgit (US$600) and my mobile phone.”
Sulaiman, a 28-year-old Indonesian migrant given three strokes and then deported in April 2010, said, “When you’re tied up you don’t feel the pain as much until after they untie you. That’s when the wound starts to bleed.” Hau Neel, a 47-year-old Burmese refugee caned in 2007, says, “The most painful thing is in my heart, that hurts even more than the wound now.” Amnesty International has called for immediately ending the barbaric practice. The report is available for download (PDF).

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