Malaysia is pushing caning for adulterers, whistleblowers, and employers who hire immigrants

Kelantan deputy chief minister Nik Amar Abdullah
Kelantan deputy chief minister Nik Amar Abdullah
Image: Olivia Harris
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Malaysia is considering ramping up an archaic form of punishment—beating people with a stick.

Over the past several weeks, provincial and national officials in the country have come out in favor of public canings for individuals who have broken the law, and canings for crimes that weren’t subject to corporeal punishment in the past.

Canings have been a form of punishment in Malaysia since before the country’s independence in 1957, and are typically performed in prisons or courts, either in private or in front of small groups of witnesses.

Early this month, Mohd Nassuruddin Daud, chair of the Kelatan state’s Committee on Islamic Development, Outreach, Information and Regional Communication, voiced his support for beating adulterers in public. (Currently, people found guilty of adultery are subject to a fine, a maximum jail term of three years, and “six strokes of the cane.”) On Monday (Mar. 21), Kelantan deputy minister Amar Nik Abdullah seconded the idea, and proposed that the country’s fields and stadiums might be used as venues for people found guilty of adultery or consuming alcohol. The beatings might take place after Friday’s prayers.

Proponents of public canings argue that they will deter crime more effectively.

“Thus far we’ve carried out canings privately, within the confines of prisons,” Nassuruddin told Malaysian media. “If these punishments are carried out in a public space, they might frighten others from committing the same sin.”

Caning enthusiasts are also recommending the punishment to address pressing issues, from influx of refugees to the corruption scandal that continues to plague Prime Minister Najib Razak. The Immigration Department wants to cane employers found guilty of hiring illegal immigrants. Malaysia’s attorney general has come out in favor of caning anyone who leaks classified government documents or “state secrets,” the Wall Street Journal reports, which is how the 1MDB scandal came to light.

The proposals have received plenty of criticism. “All they are doing is to tarnish the image of Islam among both Muslims and non-Muslims,” Noor Faridah, a representative of G25, a moderate civil society organization, told Malaysia’s The Star.