Kelantan government should reconsider decision on public caning

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Flood relief in Kelantan, December 2014: The poor bear the brunt of devastating floods caused by the wanton destruction of watershed areas due to state-sanctioned logging, poor planning and weak control of development. - Photograph: Hasnoor Hussain/Malaysian Insider

Aliran finds the decision by the Kelantan state government to amend the Kelantan Syariah Criminal Procedure Enactment 2002 to allow for public caning, among others, simply deplorable.

It is incomprehensible why the Kelantan state government chooses to focus on the meting out of harsh, degrading punishment to Muslim offenders, instead of channelling more effort into tackling urgent socioeconomic problems in the state such as the high HIV/Aids rate, rampant illegal logging, devastating annual floods and the high poverty level.

Kelantan is one of the poorest states in Malaysia, with 2015 GDP per capita of RM12,075, lagging far behind the national average of RM37,104. Therefore it boggles the mind why the Kelantan state government opts to make harsher the already barbaric and inhumane caning practice when the decision has no bearing whatsoever in solving the problems in the state.

While the Qur’an (Chapter 24, Verse 2) does allow for public caning for unmarried adulterers, it also places equal, if not more, emphasis on justice and mercy, the evidence for which can be seen in the frequency these notions appear in the holy book.

Harsher punishment does not represent the higher objective of what Sharia is supposed to achieve (maqasid syariah) ie justice, equality, peace, tolerance.

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Furthermore, countless studies have shown that highly punitive sentences do not lower crime rates – nor do they serve as an effective deterrent against criminal acts.

Only through a legal system that incorporates a comprehensive rehabilitation component, alongside the political will to address the root causes of criminal behaviour, can crime rates be lowered. History has proven time and again that fear alone will not induce genuine change in people; only love, mercy, compassion, and justice will.

Supporters of public caning in Kelantan have made the point that the method employed by the Kelantan Sharia law is milder than the one used by civil law. Two wrongs do not make a right. Caning as a form of corporal punishment is completely outdated and cruel, regardless of how it is meted out.

For many others, the objective is to abolish caning and other unnecessarily harsh punishments in the legal system, not to make them more humane and palatable. Moreover, with public caning, those on the receiving end not only have to suffer the lashes of the rattan rod but also have to endure the indignity of being shamed and debased in front of huge crowd.

What kind of society are we if we allow for this violent dehumanising spectacle to take place in broad daylight, witnessed by young impressionable children?

Similar to the hudud and RU355 controversies, supporters of public caning have been at pains to stress that this punishment is only applicable to Muslims.

Again, we at Aliran reiterate our stance on hudud and RU355, and now the public caning law – that this issue transcends religious divides because it violates the legal notion of equal justice for all.

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Why should our Muslim brothers and sisters be treated like criminals and publicly caned for an offence that non-Muslims do not get punished for or for which they receive only a minimal sentence? What does it mean to be a Malaysian citizen when one group of people is subjected to a different set of laws from others?

The focus then must be on equality and justice for all, noble ideals which the Kelantan public caning law simply fails to embody.

Aliran, alongside many others in civil society, opposes this amendment that allow for such a barbaric and humiliating practice to take effect. We urge the Kelantan state government to reconsider the decision and instead redouble its efforts to address the socio-economic problems that lead people to commit these crimes in the first place. Only then can true justice be achieved.

Aliran executive committee
14 July 2017

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