Sunday, December 12, 2010

Rights Group Says Caning in Malaysia Is Torture

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Amnesty International is calling on Malaysia to halt the practice of judicial caning, a punishment the rights group says amounts to torture and violates international law.
In a report to be released on Monday, Amnesty says that the number of offenses subject to caning under Malaysian criminal law has increased to more than 60 in recent years.
“Caning in Malaysia has hit epidemic proportions,” Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific director, said in a statement.
Based on interviews with 57 people, including drug users, Burmese refugees and Indonesian migrant workers, the report found that some inmates had been left with permanent scars and physical disabilities after being hit with the meter-long cane used in Malaysian prisons.
“The pain inflicted by caning is so severe that victims often lose consciousness,” states the report.
In what it calls a “rough estimate,” Amnesty claims that as many as 10,000 people are caned each year in Malaysia, many of them foreigners who violate immigration laws. That estimate is based on “statistical sampling” compiled by Amnesty through interviews with prisoners, the report states.
The group did not investigate caning carried out under Shariah, or Islamic law, which only covers Muslims, who make up 60 percent of Malaysia’s population.
In neighboring Singapore, where about 30 offenses are punishable by caning, 6,404 men were sentenced to be caned in 2007, according to the U.S. State Department.
The Amnesty report found that the number of people caned under Malaysian criminal law has increased since 2002, when the government made more immigration offenses, like illegal entry, punishable by caning.
A refugee from Myanmar, who was sentenced to three months in prison and two strokes of the cane after being found guilty of entering Malaysia illegally, said he was left bleeding and could not sit down for three weeks after he was caned on the buttocks last year.
In an interview in Kuala Lumpur, the man, who did not want to be identified because of fears for his family’s safety in Myanmar, described how he was taken from a detention center to a nearby prison. He waited in a hall with about 70 other men until his name was called.
“We could hear them screaming. When they came out they were very weak,” he said of the prisoners caned before him. “When my name was called, I was very afraid.”
The man, aged 28, said he had to strip off his clothes, and his hands were tied to a bar. He believed he blacked out for a couple of minutes after the second stroke. “I cannot describe how painful it was,” he said.
The man has since been granted refugee status by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
He is awaiting resettlement in another country, and said he had been shocked to discover that Malaysia practiced caning.
“I feel that Malaysia is a democratic country and they have better human rights compared to Burma. In this kind of country, they should not have this kind of punishment,” he said.
A statement issued by the prime minister’s office said that the government could not comment on the accuracy of the report because it had not had adequate time to review its findings.
“Caning sentences are carried out in Malaysia, as they are in other countries, in connection with serious offenses, including violent crimes, rape and drug trafficking,” the statement said. “These judicial canings are sentenced, alongside prison terms, at the discretion of the presiding judge.”
Malaysia restricts caning to men aged 18 to 50, although men older than 50 may be caned for sexual offenses. Women are only subject to caning under Shariah.
“We regularly review our criminal justice system practices to ensure that punishments are effective and fit the crime,” the statement said.
The Amnesty report states that prison officers were paid bonuses to carry out caning and that some officers took bribes to intentionally “miss strokes.”
Amnesty argues that doctors involved in the process — who certify prisoners as being eligible for caning and resuscitate them if they lose consciousness — are violating medical ethics.
In calling on the government to abolish the practice, the report states that “caning violates the absolute prohibition against torture and ill-treatment under international law.” 

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