KUALA LUMPUR — July 22, 2020: A High Court in Alor Setar has overturned a lower court decision to allow caning of 27 Rohingya Muslim refugees who had tried to enter Malaysia illegally by boat via Langkawi last month.
They were among 40 refugees who were sentenced to seven months’ jail by a magistrate’s court on the island.
Malaysia has long been a favoured destination for Rohingya seeking a better life after escaping a 2017 military crackdown in Myanmar, with thousands being housed in a camp in Bangladesh.
But Malaysia, which does not recognise refugees, has recently turned away boats and detained hundreds of Rohingya, saying it cannot take in more migrants because of a struggling economy as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
In a report by the Free Malaysia Today online news portal quoting Reuters, Collin Andrew, a lawyer for the refugees, said the court decided caning would be inhumane as the men were refugees and did not have any prior history of crime or violence.
The court also ordered for six teenagers, who had been convicted as adults and sentenced to jail, to be released to the United Nations High Commissione3r for Refugees following the completion of their detention on Monday.
“Today’s decision is laudable as it demonstrates the promotion and protection of human rights by the High Court,” said Andrew in a statement.
Malaysia’s Immigration Act states that anyone who illegally enters the country can face a RM10,000 fine, up to five years’ jail and six strokes of the cane.
Human rights groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch had urged Malaysia not to cane the refugees.