An appeals court in Malaysia has set aside a lower court ruling that sentenced 27 Rohingya refugees to be caned, one of the group’s lawyers said on Wednesday.
Judge Arik Sanusi said that the refugees were neither habitual offenders nor had they committed any acts of violence, so it was “inhumane” to inflict such punishment on them. The court also emphasized refugee rights by stating that such punishment would only make the refugees’ suffering worse.
In June, a court on the Langkawi island of Malaysia had sentenced 40 Rohingya refugees to seven months’ imprisonment for entering the country in April without a valid permit. Of those, 27 were later additionally sentenced to three strokes of cane. The sentence had drawn criticism from human rights groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch which demanded protection of the refugees.
Six of the 40 refugees are teenagers who had been convicted as adults and sentenced to seven months in jail. The court ordered for their release to the UN Refugee Agency at the end of their detention period this coming Monday.
Per Malaysia’s Immigration Act 1959-63, illegally entering the country is punishable by up to five years of imprisonment and fine up to 10,000 ringgits (or $2,346), besides six strokes of cane. The country is also not party to the 1951 Refugee Convention.
At the end of June 2020, 101,320 Rohingya refugees were registered with UNHCR in Malaysia. In recent months, Malaysia has been turning away and detaining Rohingya refugees arriving by boat. President Muhyiddin Yassin had in the June 26 Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN) meeting said that the country cannot accommodate more Rohingya refugees, citing heightened resource scarcity in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.