Malaysia:Caning, a legacy of british rule, reaches epidemic levels, reveals new report

Doctors and officers incentivised to deliver torture

Spokespeople available in Kuala Lumpur and London, B-roll video available

A new Amnesty International report, released today (Monday 6 December), paints a horrific picture of the brutal and torturous nature of caning in Malaysia.

The 59-page report called A Blow to Humanity is based on the testimony of 57 cases and describes how caning, which was first introduced into the country by the British in the 19th century, has now reached epidemic proportions in Malaysia.

Each year an estimated 6,000 refugees and 10,000 prisoners are caned there.

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.

Instead of attempting to restrict the practice, the Malaysian authorities are incentivising people to deliver the punishment.

Doctors are being paid to revive victims when they lose consciousness during their beatings – for the sole purpose that their torture can continue. And officers get bonuses for each lashing they deliver – some use the payment to double their salaries.

Amnesty International is calling for an immediate end to the brutal and out-dated practice.

Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Director, said:

“Caning in Malaysia has hit epidemic proportions. In every case that we examined, the punishment amounted to torture, which is absolutely prohibited under any circumstances.

“The role that Malaysian doctors play in facilitating deliberate pain and injury through caning is absolutely contrary to international medical ethics. Instead of treating the victims, the doctors are preparing them for punishment.”

Amnesty International maintains that Malaysian officials and state employees who are complicit in torture, are liable to prosecution worldwide under universal jurisdiction for grave human rights crimes.

In recent years, Malaysia has increased the number of penal offences subject to caning to more than 60. Caning is used as a punishment for such benign crimes as trespassing and forgery. In addition, since 2002, when Parliament made immigration violations such as illegal entry subject to caning, tens of thousands of refugees and migrant workers have been caned.

Due to language barriers, the asylum-seekers often have no understanding of the charges or fate that awaits them. Nian Vung is one of the victims of caning featured in the report. He fled to Malaysia in 2008 to escape forced labour and other human rights violations by the military in his home country, Burma.

Nian Vung’s testimony is typical of the trauma and despair reported by other victims of caning. He said:

“Behind the glass I could see about ten men, very big, very strong. They were looking at us, giving us a stare. Some were holding their canes.

“The cane felt very hot. A very severe pain on my buttocks. Not just the physical pain, the mental pain is worse. I felt deserted, that even God had deserted me.”

Amnesty International calls on the Malaysian government to:

  • Enact immediately a moratorium on caning punishment in all cases, with a view to its abolition;
  • Ratify the UN Convention Against Torture and its Optional Protocol, as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;
  • Amend legislation to treat immigration violations as administrative offences rather than crimes punishable by prison or corporal punishment.

In the video below Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Director, talks about the brutal and torturous practice of caning in Malaysia.

PLEASE NOTE: The video contains footage which some people may find disturbing.

Amnesty Malaysia caning report from Amnesty International on Vimeo

View latest press releases