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Judicial (religious) corporal punishment in Malaysia

Video clips: Malaysia

caning of woman

With comments by C. Farrell

Two video clips relating to Syariah (religious) caning.

Clip 1 of 2

At a public meeting, officials demonstrate, on a dummy, the difference between religious (Syariah) caning for Muslims, which is intended to be a symbolic act of shame rather than of serious pain, and judicial caning for criminals, which is very severe, as we already knew because we have seen video of the real thing.

 In the clip (1 minute 35 seconds), the first four strokes represent the religious punishment. This looks a good deal less painful than the average junior schoolboy caning. The operator does not swing his arm back and puts hardly any force into the stroke, and there is no "follow-through".

 The "light" rotan is then exchanged for the longer, heavier criminal one. The operator assumes a more aggressive stance and delivers five criminal-type strokes at maximum power, with a full swing and follow-through. Some of the audience seem to be taken aback by their severity, even though the film of the real thing is believed to have circulated widely.

 The master of ceremonies then emphasises the target area, pointing to the dummy's "buttocks". This seems to contradict earlier suggestions that the syariah caning, unlike criminal caning, is not necessarily confined to the posterior. However, it now appears to have been decided that when women receive syariah caning it will be given further up, around the area of the small of the back (see clip 2 below).


This video clip is not currently available.

Clip 2 of 2

In February 2010 three women were caned, for the first time ever in Malaysia. This was a punishment for extramarital sex, contrary to the rules of Islam. Surprisingly, one of these religious canings was allowed to be filmed (with faces obscured), and this is part of a video from the website of the Malay-language newspaper Berita Harian.

 The caning was carried out at Kajang Prison near Kuala Lumpur. No woman anywhere in Malaysia may be judicially caned by the criminal courts, and only three states out of 16 -- Pahang, Perlis and Kelantan -- plus, it now transpires, Federal Territory (KL, Putrajaya and Labuan), permit the caning of women by religious courts. Only Muslims are subject to these courts. All ethnic Malays are deemed to be Muslims by birth; members of other races (mostly Chinese) may convert to Islam if they wish, and a few do, typically when they want to marry a Muslim. There are also some Indian Muslims, although most Indians in Malaysia are Hindu Tamils.

 The film extract (1 minute 8 seconds) shows a lady prison officer reading out what I presume is the sentence of the religious court, as the offender stands by. We then see a couple of strokes of the cane being administered to the woman's clothed back (not to her buttocks, as was earlier announced with this diagram in the press). These are just the lightest of taps, feebler even than in the demonstration above, and very much a token gesture, explaining why the women have been quoted in the media as saying that the caning did not hurt. Note also that the woman is neither kneeling, as in the diagram, nor tied up to a frame as in the demonstration (see previous video, above), but sitting on a stool. Most of the original video consists of the women being interviewed later by the press in Malay, not shown here.

 For more on this group of cases, see two Feb 2010 news items, 3 women caned for having illicit sex and Caning 'has done us a world of good'.


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Page updated July 2010