PETALING JAYA: The Malaysian Bar is against whipping, whether it is carried out under civil or shariah laws, its president George Varughese said.
“We stand unequivocally and unreservedly against all forms of corporal punishment, including caning or whipping, in accordance with the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT), and international human rights norms,” he said in a statement.
He said this in response to the punishment carried out on two women, aged 22 and 32, at the Terengganu Shariah High Court courtroom, witnessed by about 100 people on Monday.
Earlier this month, the women were convicted of attempting to have lesbian sex.
They were charged under shariah law and sentenced to six strokes of the cane and a fine of RM3,300.
Varughese said the Bar had taken the position that corporal punishment must be totally abolished as a form of punishment for all offences.
“Caning in itself is a cruel and degrading form of punishment that strips an individual of dignity and self-respect,” he said.
He said this was exacerbated by the very public manner in which the caning was carried out, the harmful effects of which cannot be justified by any perceived retributory, deterrent or educational value.
He said any comparison of this type of caning with whipping under civil law was also misplaced.
He said 53 countries, including four member states of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, have imposed bans on all forms of corporal punishment.
“Malaysia must follow suit,” he added.
The Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965 (Act 355) empowers state authorities to mete out sentences of up to three years in jail, six strokes of the cane and RM5,000 fine for violating Islamic criminal laws.
Whipping is also allowed for both sexes.
However, the Islamic way of caning differs from the punishment under secular laws.
Under Islamic law, offenders are caned on the back with a thin rod. They are also allowed to remain clothed.
The Criminal Procedure Code governs both Muslims and non-Muslims, but exempts women from being whipped. This punishment is carried out in the prisons.
Serious crime offenders could be whipped a maximum 24 times on the bare buttocks with a thick rattan stick, which breaks the skin and leaves lifelong scars.