KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA: An alliance of 25 international and local groups issued a strong statement today, calling on Malaysia to abolish the penal punishment of whipping or caning, which they described as an “inhumane, degrading, and cruel form of penal punishment”.
The whipping sentence, considered a violation of human rights, is applicable in more than 50 different criminal offences in Malaysia.
Whipping was first introduced by the British during the colonial era and was codified under the 1871 Penal Code Ordinance of the Straits Settlements. Despite global advancements in human rights laws, whipping is still retained as a punitive measure in Malaysia, often as a mandatory sentence.
Poor undocumented migrants and refugees, who do not have legal recognition under Malaysian law, are frequently the victims of whipping sentences.
According to Prisons Department records, between 2002 to 2008, 34,923 out of 47,914 foreigners convicted under the Immigration Act were subjected to caning or whipping.
Additionally, the Abolition Of Mandatory Death Penalty Act 2023 now mandates whipping as a punishment if imprisonment is handed down instead of the death penalty, removing the judge’s discretion to refrain from passing a whipping sentence.
The impact on victims is far from trivial. The pain, humiliation, and physical harm caused by whipping have been repeatedly testified to by those who have endured it.
New Zealander, Aaron Cohen, who received six strokes in 1982 for drug trafficking, and Sabri Umar, an Indonesian migrant worker unlawfully whipped while his appeal was pending, have both described their experiences as highly traumatic and agonizing.
Despite the fact that a medical officer must certify the health of an offender before and during whipping, critics argue that this does not mitigate the human rights violations inherent in the punishment.
These critics include Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, a former Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, who described whipping as “brutal, violent and simply inhumane.”
The call for abolition has gained support from influential local bodies, including the Malaysian Bar, SUHAKAM (Malaysian Human Rights Commission), and government backbencher Hassan Karim, who described caning punishment as “sadistic, primitive and inhumane.”
The previous Perikatan Nasional government had made commitments to abolish mandatory death and whipping sentences before the last General Elections. However, these promises are yet to be fulfilled by the current Pakatan Harapan-led unity government under Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim.
The group made four main demands. Firstly, they called for the speedy abolition of whipping as a sentence in all Malaysian laws. Secondly, they asked for an immediate moratorium on whipping pending its abolition. They also demanded the abolition of mandatory whipping sentences and finally, called on Malaysia to ratify the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
The statement comes as the Human Rights Measurement Initiative’s (HRMI) Rights Tracker 2023 gave Malaysia a low score of 4.9 out of 10 for the right to freedom from torture and ill-treatment.
As of now, Malaysia remains one of the few democracies yet to ratify the UN Convention against Torture.
The 25 signatories of the statement calling for the abolishment of the penal punishment of whipping or caning
- MADPET (Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture)
- Association of Domestic and Maquila Workers (ATRAHDOM), Guatemala Central America
- AACP (Australians Against Capital Punishment)
- Black Women for Wages for Housework, International
- Building and Wood Workers International (BWI) Asia Pacific Region
- German Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (GCADP)
- Global Women’s Strike, UK
- Haiti Action Committee
- International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific
- Japan Innocence and Death Penalty Information Center
- Lawyers Collective, India
- Legal Action for Women, UK
- Malaysian Physicians for the Prevention of War
- Migrant Care, Indonesia
- MAP Foundation, Thailand
- North South Initiative
- Payday men’s network (UK/US)
- Pergerakan Tenaga Akademik Malaysia (GERAK)
- Redemption, Pakistan.
- Sabah Plantation Industry Employees Union (SPIEU)
- Sarawak Dayak Iban Association
- Union of Domestic and Maquila workers (SITRADOM), Guatemala
- Women of Color/Global Women’s Strike, US
- WH4C (Workers Hub For Change)