Judicial caning, torture of detainees and the death penalty infringe human rights
I have not witnessed judicial caning in our prisons nor do I wish to. Perhaps the only reason I may wish to, given the opportunity, is to witness and publicize this inhuman form of punitive justice.
A medical officer in a government hospital who has witnessed this medieval punishment related his experience to me. He was instructed to do so by his superiors and he didn’t have a choice in this matter. It would have been insubordination had he refused this duty and he would have been punished for it.
“I had to examine the prisoners before each caning. The fear in their eyes was palpable. Many had cold sweaty palms and some were incontinent of urine and faeces. At times their blood pressure was high and their pulse was racing uncontrollably. When this happened, I could order a postponement of the caning but that was not commonly agreed to by the authorities. Utter relief washed over the faces of those granted a postponement. An animal like grunt of gratitude would emit from the prisoner. But it was only a postponement and in their pitiful lives, that was all they wanted at that time. I had to witness the actual caning on many occasions. As the cane landed heavily on the exposed buttocks, flecks of blood and skin and tissue would fly off. A long and prominent blister wells up immediately. The prisoner would usually be reduced to a sobbing, weak prostrated state. He would not be able to sit down for days. I also had to examine them after the caning. I recorded the effects of the punishment and at the same time know that I cannot stop it from happening again.”
Judicial caning in the prisons is not the only state sponsored form of cruelty. Other kinds of torture of persons under detention have been recorded. Essays and articles by former ISA detainees tell of sleep deprivation, mental abuse and expertly delivered physical punishment that leaves no superficial scars but which may lead to internal injury. Any person injured while in detention must be given all due medical care. Injuries suffered and deaths of persons (supposedly a result of suicide or otherwise) under detention need to be fully investigated to ensure that no deviation from protocol has occurred.
The death penalty is another form of human rights abuse. The taking of a human life, whether by an individual or by the government, is the grossest abuse of fundamental human rights. This is the stand taken by Amnesty International and I agree. All prisoners on death row suffer mental anguish because of the anticipation of being executed. The innocent who have been wrongly convicted because of the occasional failure in the judicial process suffer doubly. No injustice can surpass the injustice of killing an innocent man in the state’s name. No study has shown that the death penalty has led to a decrease in crime. If anything, studies in Canada and some states in the U S have shown the opposite. When the death penalty was abolished, the number of serious crimes decreased. The argument of justice, comfort and recompense to the victims or their relatives, holds no water. Many studies have shown that the death of the perpetrator brings no closure to the relatives of victims.
The trend is clear. In the past 50 years, more and more countries have abolished the death penalty. Of the 48 countries who still retain the death sentence, many have not carried out any execution for years. In fact, in 2011, only 18 countries have carried out the death penalty and Malaysia is one of them. The numbers will continue to fall. Let not Malaysia be the last one left on the list. It is a dubious distinction we can well do without.
Malaysian Physicians for Social Responsibility stands resolutely with those who call for the abolition of the death penalty. We also call upon the government to abolish caning or flogging as punishment meted out to criminals. We urge the authorities to ensure that no persons under detention be subject to any form of physical or mental abuse. Doctors are duty bound to ‘do no harm’. We should also not be complicit in any act of violence or killing, state decreed or otherwise. We will support all doctors who refuse to participate in any way as witnesses and medical examiners whenever the state carries out an execution or judicial caning.
Let not the government say that it is carrying out all these inhuman and inhumane practices on behalf of the people and with their support. It is certainly not done in my name.
DR. ALBERT LIM KOK HOOI
Member, Malaysian Physicians for Social Responsibility