'Epidemic' of canings in Malaysia

Caning of convicts and asylum seekers in Malaysian prisons has reached "epidemic proportions" and is often inflicted so severely that flesh is torn off the body, Amnesty International said yesterday.

The human rights group said the practice amounts to torture and should be abandoned. However, prison officials defended the whippings as lawful.

Malaysian courts mete out caning – a remnant from British colonial laws – to punish severe offences such as rape, robbery, drug possession and corruption.

Up to 24 strokes are given with a thick rattan stick.

Since 2002, caning has also been used to punish immigration offences, such as illegally entering the country. Amnesty estimated that some 10,000 people are caned each year, many of them illegal immigrants. It interviewed dozens of convicts for its 50-page report.

Malaysia's Prison Department, rejected the accusation of torture, saying the whippings are carefully supervised by prison authorities and attended by doctors.