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On the lash in Singapore

Another stifling midsummer day and another story about Brits abroad. Getting caned. Though this time, this is not a classic binge-drinking Britain story, but a caning of another sort. British businessman Austin Cowburn from Manchester, is facing a potential caning punishment for allegedly squeezing a woman’s bottom in a nightclub in Singapore. 

He is reported to be charged with the offence of “outraging the modesty” of the woman. The story seems to have caught the public interest, at a time when holidaying and what might be in store for people travelling to other countries, is at the forefront of people’s minds. 

Amnesty has not commented on Mr Cowburn’s alleged behaviour. We are always concerned about any allegations of assault against women and have a long history of campaigning to stop violence against women. But caning is a brutal and archaic practice that is never acceptable. It should be consigned to the history books. Read some of this disturbing testimony from people who were caned in Malaysia that was collated for a report.  

The pain inflicted by caning is so severe that victims often lose consciousness as a result.  Afterwards the suffering can last for weeks or even years, both in terms of physical disabilities and psychological trauma.  As a punishment that intentionally inflicts severe pain and trauma, caning violates the absolute prohibition against torture and ill-treatment under international law.  

Caning was imposed for some 30 offences in Singapore last year, including for vandalism, and in April a man from Cameroon was caned for overstaying his visa. Whatever offence Mr Cowburn is accused of, when someone is found guilty of an offence after a fair trial there are a great many avenues of sentencing, which do not constitute torture, available; such as a custodial sentence, or a financial penalty.  

At Amnesty our position is simple.  Caning is a form of torture, and constitutes cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Neither Austin Cowburn, nor anybody else should face being hit with a cane as a punishment, wherever in the world they are and what ever they are accused of doing.

About Amnesty UK Blogs
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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