A group of 27 Rohingya refugees due to be whipped in Malaysia have been spared after a judge overturned the punishment.
Amnesty International had accused the country of “human torture” after the group were sentenced to three strokes of the rotan (a long rattan cane) in June.
According to human rights campaigners, the men were part of a group of refugees picked up in a boat in Malaysia after previously fleeing violence in Myanmar.
April: Hundreds of Rohingya rescued in Bangladesh
Nine women and 31 men were arrested and sentenced to seven months in jail for entering and staying without a valid work permit, Human Rights Watch said.
27 of the men were also due to be caned until a judge set aside that punishment at a hearing at the High Court today.
Lawyers for the group told Sky News that His Lordship, Dr Arik Sanusi, made the decision because the convicted men are Rohingya refugees in need of international protection due to the persecution they face and the ongoing situation in Myanmar’s Rakhine State.
Collin Andrew, who represented the refugees said: “Today’s decision is laudable as it demonstrates the promotion and protection of human rights by the High Court.”
More from Malaysia
International principals mean they cannot be returned to their home country, and as they are registered as refugees with the United Nations, it would be “inhumane to impose a sentence of whipping.”
They are also not habitual or violent offenders.
Under Malaysia’s Immigration Act 1959-63, anyone who illegally enters the country is liable to a fine up to 10,000 ringgit (£1,857) or up to five years in jail. They can also be whipped up to six times.
:: Listen to the Behind the Headlines podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Spreaker
The original sentence led to outrage from human rights activists with a spokesperson from Amnesty International labelling the plan to cane the men as “cruel and inhuman” and amounting ” to torture.”
Rachel Chhoa-Howard, Amnesty International’s Malaysia Researcher, said: “Today’s decision reverses a cruel and inhumane sentence that should never have been handed down in the first place.
“While it comes as welcome news, all 27 men remain jailed along with dozens of other Rohingya refugees – including women and children – simply for attempting to escape terrible persecution in Myanmar.
“The Malaysian government must release all jailed Rohingya refugees.
May 2019: Desperate Rohingya stranded in Myanmar
“They have been unlawfully singled out and convicted for alleged ‘immigration offences’, which are contrary to international law. The hundreds of other Rohingya people held in detention centres in Malaysia must also be freed and released into the care of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.”
More than 700,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar to camps in Bangladesh following a violent crackdown by the military in 2017 which the UN later described as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
This year, Malaysia has turned away some boats carrying refugees and detained people, blaming residents’ concerns over COVID-19.
January: Myanmar ordered to protect Rohingyas by International Court of Justice
Today, lawyers also confirmed that 14 children, who activists feared faced jail, were not serving any prison sentences after a ruling by magistrates on 8 July.
The High Court judge also ruled that six 17-year-olds would be released to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on 27 July when their prison sentences were completed.
Sky News has contacted Malaysia’s home affairs minister and is awaiting comment.
Source : Sky News