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Pakistan: Public caning c.1978: photographs

With notes by C. Farrell



In the late 1970s and early 1980s, General Zia Al-Huq was the dictator of Pakistan. Although there had been judicial and prison corporal punishment before, he greatly extended it and decreed that particularly egregious criminals, notably rapists, should be made an example of by being caned in public. There were several reports of these events, which often took place in sports stadia before thousands of spectators.

I do not have the exact date for this sequence of pictures, but they are evidently from a journalistic source. As to place, new evidence to hand suggests they are from Karachi (see note at bottom of this page). I have not seem them published anywhere, although a number of such pictures from other similar events were. These might be stills from a newsreel outtake. Such newsreel coverage of these canings as did appear at the time on TV only ever showed one or two of the strokes, without sound, presumably because TV editors judged that audiences would find the spectacle too exciting.

The pictures came to me unnumbered, and I have had to guess the correct sequence of images by studying the content.




Prison officers guard the culprit at the edge of the pitch, perhaps awaiting the go-ahead from their superiors. On the right of the picture is the wooden flogging frame, not yet set up in its place out on the field.




The offender crouches, probably in shame and terror, as he awaits his fate.



Prison officers bring him out on to the sports field. He is held on a chain. The stands are packed with spectating citizens. From the length of the shadows, this could be a late afternoon or early evening "entertainment" for the crowd.




In bright sunlight the criminal is attached to the A-frame, similar in design to that seen in other former British territories (e.g. Singapore). The doctor takes his pulse while the flagellator waits to one side, flexing his cane.



The prisoner's baggy trousers and boxer shorts have been lowered and his buttocks snugly covered with a thin (wet?) cloth, possibly for reasons of modesty in a Muslim country. The administering officer takes aim, using the cane to measure his distance from the target. The doctor stands back, keeping watch on the proceedings.



I think this close-up front view of the culprit on the frame was probably taken before the caning had started - a look of apprehension perhaps? - but we cannot be sure.



The punishment has begun. The camera catches the long, flexible cane in mid-flight as it hurtles towards the offender's posterior. Note that his feet are secured through holes at the bottom of the frame. A leather strap secures him to the frame at waist level.



As the caning continues, the prisoner is writhing in his bonds - note the twisting of the head - and the officer holding on to the frame looks as if he may be struggling to keep the arms still. It would seem that one or two spectators and photographers - probably they are the press - have been allowed to come forward to view the action at closer quarters.



All pictures that I have seen of Pakistan canings show the culprit in the upright position with his hands tied above his head, as in Malaysia, rather than bent over the middle bar of the frame, as in Singapore and as for pre-1948 UK birchings.



The prisoner screams as yet another stroke hits home.



This shot gives a clear impression of the administering officer's caning style, using a short run-up for each stroke.



The punishment is over and the criminal, now deemed incapable of independent locomotion, is carried off by the prison officers, including the one who administered the caning, who looks suitably hot and exhausted.




  • For other pictures of Pakistan public caning from the same era, see The Archive -- Pakistan/Judicial March 1978 and Pakistan/Judicial April 1978. The latter picture, of a flogging in Karachi, shows an identical A-frame to the pictures on this page, and the man administering the punishment appears to be the same one as in the pictures on this page. It therefore seems likely that these pictures are also from Karachi.

  • UPDATE (February 2000): Another picture has now come to hand -- still undated, unfortunately -- which is clearly from the same sequence and has a caption stating that the punishment was 10 lashes for rape and confirming that the location was Karachi:

  • Yet more Pakistan JCP pictures now to hand



blob Country files: JCP in Pakistan

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Copyright C. Farrell
Page updated February 2000