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I REFER to your report, “Get facts right about caning, Immigration tells Amnesty” (NST, July 6) in which the Immigration Director-General Abdul Rahman Othman, responding to Amnesty International’s allegation that tens of thousands of migrants had received “inhuman and degrading” punishment in recent years, was quoted as saying, “Illegal entry into this country is dealt with severely because it not only poses a security threat to Malaysia but contributes to various other problems including prostitution and much talked about human trafficking”.

Rahman was also reported as saying that Immigration law allows caning only for those who entered the country through illegal means and that not all illegal immigrants in the country were liable to be caned.

According to the report, Amnesty International cited a statement in Parliament recently that the Prisons Department had caned at least 34,923 illegal immigrants between 2002 and 2008.

Mandatory caning of up to six strokes of the rotan was added to the Immigration laws in 2002 along with fines and jail terms of up to five years for those convicted of trafficking in humans.

Despite the fact that the majority of the illegal immigrants — those who entered the country legally but overstayed — are not liable to be caned, 34,923 were caned.

Many illegal immigrants, who are uneducated and illiterate, have been duped by human traffickers to whom they have paid their savings, believing in the traffickers’ promise of well-paid jobs here to escape poverty at home.

While it would be fair to deal severely with human traffickers who cheat and profit from the ignorant it would be unfair to cane the victims of human trafficking and treat them on a par with others who are caned, such as drug traffickers and those convicted of violent crimes such as rape.

Instead of making caning mandatory across the board for all found guilty of entering the country illegally, caning should only be made mandatory for human traffickers.

In the case of others who enter the country illegally the judge should be given the discretion to decide whether or not to impose whipping depending on whether they are a security threat to the country or just came to work as labourers, etc.

M.G. DEVA, Kuala Lumpur

Source: NST – July 8, 2009