Singapore Defends Caning

City-state refutes international criticism following court decision last week.

Singapore Defends Caning
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Singapore is defending last week’s court decision calling for two German men to be caned, rejecting criticism that the punishment constitutes torture. The men were convicted of vandalizing a public train carriage and repeatedly trespassing into a high-security depot.

Last Thursday, Andreas Von Knorre, 22, and Elton Hinz, 21, were sentenced to nine months in jail and three strokes of the cane after pleading guilty to committing the offenses last year. They had initially left Singapore but were eventually arrested in Malaysia and extradited back to the city-state.

Following the decision, Phil Robertson, deputy-director of the Asia division of Human Rights Watch, criticized the judiciary’s “shameful recourse” to using torture, calling the decision indicative of a “blatant disregard for international human rights standards.” “Every day that Singapore keeps caning on its books is a dark day for the country’s international reputation,” Robertson told Reuters in an email.

Caning in Singapore involves being struck by a rattan stick, which results in excruciating pain and can leave significant physical damage.

But a spokeswoman for the Attorney-General’s Chambers told Agence France-Presse on Monday that the country’s laws against vandalism were well-known and applied equally across all cases, and that the punishment did not amount to torture.

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“Singapore’s laws against vandalism are well-known. Caning is a prescribed punishment for the offense of vandalism, and the law applies to any person who chooses to break it,” she said.

“Caning is not torture. It is carried out in Singapore under strict standards, monitored at all times by a doctor,” she added.

Meanwhile, the Singapore newspaper The Straits Times reported that a spokesman for the German embassy had said that its government “is opposed to corporal punishment anywhere in the world, including in Singapore.”

Singapore is notorious for its strict laws aimed at maintaining order and cleanliness. The maximum penalty for vandalism is a hefty fine or up to three years in jail, in addition to three to eight strokes of the cane.

According to the 2013 human rights country report for Singapore produced by the U.S. State Department, the city-state handed out over 2,000 caning sentences in 2012, with over half of these being foreigners caned for immigration offenses.

Singapore’s vandalism laws grabbed headlines around the world in 1994, when U.S. teenager Michael Fay was caned despite appeals from the U.S. government.