Caning, Rearing its Ugly Head Again

The media is buzzing with news about Roache, a Canadian National who committed robbery at the Standard Charted Bank in Singapore. Roache who is in Britain now, will be extradited to Singapore soon following an undertaking given by the Singapore government to the British government that Roache will not be caned. The word is that the President of Singapore will ultimately pardon him from being caned. My question is, “Has the President of Singapore ever pardoned a Singaporean from being caned on exceptional grounds?” I will be happy to be proven otherwise. Aside from the point about the unequal treatment of Singaporeans, and the point that laws should be applied equally to all (local or foreign), the discourse misses an important issue. I don’t wish to be misunderstood – I am not saying I want Roache to be caned – to the contrary, because I believe caning itself is a form of torture.

It was the British who introduced caning in Singapore. The original objective of the caning was based on British racism towards the Chinese at the time. In the Legislative debates on the introduction of caning in 1872, the British government had referred to the Chinese rioters as the “riff-raff and scum of China”.

We have a choice to repeal caning. 164 countries have done so through the signing of the United Nations Convention against Torture. To endorse caning is to continue this racist legislation which the Indian parliament abolished in 1953 as Mahatma Gandhi found the caning to be barbaric and uncivilised practice. The British themselves abolished caning in 1948. Singapore needs to set itself free from such archaic laws and abolish caning too.

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