Malaysian courts have ordered 45 illegal foreigner workers to be caned -- the first to be given the colonial-era punishment in a continuing immigration crackdown, news reports said yesterday.
A total of 87 Indonesians, Indians, Bangladeshis, Thais and Chinese nationals were convicted and sentenced on Monday on charges of illegal entry and using expired work permits or forged documents, the Star newspaper reported. The sentences were handed down by various courts in the cities of Kuala Lumpur, Ipoh and Klang.
The Star said 41 people were sentenced to between two months and a year in prison while one man from the tsunami-hit Indonesian region of Aceh was sentenced to two weeks in jail. Of the remaining 45, one Indonesian was ordered to receive two lashes of the rattan cane while the rest were to be caned once, the Star said. It is not clear if they will appeal.
The New Straits Times and the Star said most of the illegal migrants pleaded guilty and asked the court for leniency, saying they were cheated by agents or employers.
An Immigration Department spokeswoman, contacted by reporters, refused to comment on the caning judgments that came despite appeals by the Indonesian government.
The Immigration Department spokeswoman would only say that 2,696 people had been detained nationwide since the crackdown against illegal workers began on March 1 after the end of a four-month amnesty.
"We will investigate each case before deciding whether to charge them in court," she said, on customary condition of anonymity. "Until then they will stay at migrant detention camps."
The crackdown has strained ties between Malaysia and Indonesia, which accuses the Malaysian government of being lax against local employers who hire illegal workers but do not pay their wages.
Malaysia says it is ready to accept Indonesian workers if they come in with valid papers but accuses Jakarta of charging excessive fees for the workers to return here.
About 450,000 illegal migrants, mostly Indonesians, left during the amnesty but around 400,000 are believed to be still in the country. In addition, some 1 million foreigners work legally here.
Foreign labor forms the backbone of Malaysia's work force. They do menial jobs that locals refuse to do, especially at construction sites, plantations and in restaurants.
Human rights groups have said that caning, a holdover of British colonial days, is an excessive punishment for nonviolent crimes. It is a standard punishment for more than 40 crimes in Malaysia, ranging from sexual abuse to drug use.
Administered with a thick rattan stick, it splits the skin and leaves permanent scars.