A High Court in Malaysia overturned a lower court judgement to cane 27 Rohingya refugees for arriving without valid permits.
After outrage from human rights organisations, the Alor Setar High Court in Kedah state overturned a decision by a magistrate court in Langkawi which had ordered the caning of 27 Rohingya who had arrived into the country by boat without proper permits. Setting aside the earlier judgement, the court said that it would be inhumane to impose a sentence of caning on those who weren’t habitual offenders or hadn’t committed any acts of violence and that it would only add to their suffering as refugees.
Muslim-majority Malaysia has long been a favoured destination for the Rohingya who are fleeing religious prosecution in their home state of Rakhine in Myanmar. Langkawi is a strategic landing point for the Muslim refugees who are fleeing from either Myanmar or, more recently, from refugee camps in Bangladesh.
The 27 Rohingya were among the 40 who were arrested and convicted last June. All of them were also sentenced to seven months in jail including the six teenagers among them. Collin Andrew, a lawyer representing the refugees, said the refugees were ordered to be released to the United Nations refugee agency.
Recently the courts also dismissed a case of illegal immigration against 50 Rohingya minors and human rights lawyers are trying to seek a review of the case against six Rohingya teenagers, including two girls, who were tried and convicted as adults.
Malaysia, that is not a signatory to the UN convention on refugees, doesn’t recognise their refugee status and has been turning away boats and detaining hundreds of Rohingya. Under its immigration act, those who enter illegally are fined heavily, jailed and given six strokes of the cane. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch were some of the groups that had urged Malaysia to withdraw the sentence and accord them the protection they deserve as refugees. There are already some 177,940 refugees and asylum seekers registered with the UNHRC in Malaysia and 101,320 of them are Rohingya. Malaysia has been saying that it can’t take in any more of them because its economy has been struggling due to the pandemic.