27 Rohingya nationals spared the cane, judge says refugees in need of protection

ALOR STAR: Twenty-seven male Rohingya refugees were spared the cane after the High Court here set aside the sentencing by the magistrate’s court.

The 27 accused were among 40 Rohingya refugees who were charged on June 18 for entering Malaysia illegally via Langkawi on March 18.

The 40 Rohingya were found guilty by the magistrate’s court in Langkawi for entering Malaysia without a valid travel document during the height of the movement control order in March; at the same time that Malaysia was enforcing a lockdown to curb the spread of the Covid-19 virus.

They were all sentenced to seven months imprisonment for illegal entry while 27 of them were additionally given three strokes of the rotan.

They would later be released into the custody of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) upon serving their sentence.

Justice Dr Arik Sanusi Yeop Johari, in reviewing the earlier penalty, said the 27 persons were refugees in need of international protection due to the persecution they faced.

“In line with the international principle of non refoulement, they cannot be returned and in this regard, the court took judicial notice of the current situation in Rakhine, Myanmar,“ Arik Sanusi said.

The judge also ruled that the refugees were not habitual offenders, they did not commit any violence and therefore it is inhumane for them to be imposed with a sentence of whipping.

Furthermore, the refugees had also registered themselves with the UNHCR.

“The decision is laudable as it demonstrates the promotion and protection of human rights by the High Court,” said defense counsel Colin Andrew.

Under the Immigration Act, those who enter the country illegally are liable for a RM10,000 fine, up to five years imprisonment and six strokes of the rotan.

Before the court proceedings began here, several human rights organisations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, had pleaded for the refugees not to be caned.

Andrew also disclosed that six Rohingya teenagers, who were part of the 40 serving jail were be released immediately to the UNHCR.