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Officers hated caning offenders
Hong Kong teenager Shiu Chi-Ho has been sentenced in Singapore to 12 strokes with a rattan cane. Hedley Thomas found a cane used to perform the deed in Hong Kong and spoke to a prisons officer with painful memories of its use
TUCKED away in a disused cell at Stanley Prison, the last known cane used to flog the backsides of Hong Kong offenders is now idle and impotent.
But its chilling past and potential to inflict pain can be starkly demonstrated.
Over a metre long and smoothly hewn, the rattan cane nestled snugly in the palm of H.S. Rutton's right hand yesterday.
He raised it high above his head, paused and grimaced. For a split-second it hung limply. Then, with all his might, the longtime Correctional Services Department (CSD) officer brought it crashing down.
It split the air with a whoosh before smashing on to a table. Mr Rutton, now head of the CSD Staff Training Institute at Stanley, wiped his forehead before repeating the effort, thankful that his blow was not aimed at bare skin.
"I hate this thing. I have seen what it does to its victims," Mr Rutton, an officer with almost a quarter-century of CSD service, recalled yesterday.
"I have watched them afterwards trying to drag themselves away to the sick bay, unable to sit down for weeks."
Until 1990, successive governors of Hong Kong approved thousands of floggings under the Corporal Punishment Ordinance.
A yellowing Government Gazette of 1949 records an extension of the ordinance so prison officers could use "a light cane or rattan or cat-o'-nine-tails" to flog inmates for offences committed during incarceration.
Now Governor Chris Patten is under pressure to appeal for clemency in the case of Shiu Chi-Ho, who was sentenced to 12 strokes of the cane in a Singapore court on Thursday.
Shiu, 17, was convicted of vandalism with American youth Michael Fay, whose punishment of six strokes has drawn international condemnation and appeals from United States President Bill Clinton.
Mr Rutton, who has witnessed canings and the after-effects in Stanley Prison, expressed pity for Shiu.
"Oooh! Twelve strokes. It will break his flesh. It will be a terrible, traumatic experience for the boy," said Mr Rutton.
"He will remember it for the rest of his life. And he will bear the scars for a very long time. I feel pity for this boy, like I feel pity for everyone caned."
Mr Rutton well remembers the times he looked on as supervisor while a colleague flogged the hapless men and boys strapped on a rack.
"Their trousers were removed. They would lie on a rack and a leather strap was tied around their back to protect the spine," he recalled.
"The guards hit hard. There was no specific rule saying how much force should be used, but if you were given the job you had to strike as hard as you could.
"Some people being caned became very tough and vowed not to scream. But most of them screamed. You could see the blood. It was very unpleasant to watch.
"If a judge ordered a punishment of 12 strokes, a medical officer would check his [the victim's] condition after five or six to see whether or not he could take more," Mr Rutton said.
If the victims passed out from the pain and could not be immediately revived, they would face the rest of their sentence the following day.
Wielding the cane was a duty abhorred by most prison officers, according to Mr Rutton. They regularly protested to the Government and legislators, who started paying a monthly bonus to volunteers.
The Hong Kong Human Rights Commission chairman, Ho Hei-wah, yesterday urged the Government to send a clear message to Singapore expressing opposition to the caning. Mr Ho said it was unfortunate that many Hong Kong people were generally supportive of corporal punishment.
A spokesman for the Fight Crime Committee said: "In this day and age, causing physical injury as a punishment is not acceptable. Rehabilitation and psychological treatment would be much more effective."
Dr Ian Field, chief of the World Medical Association, said doctors should not serve as monitors of judicial floggings.
"If I was asked to certify someone as suitable for a flogging, I would simply say 'no', because I don't believe anybody is fit for a flogging," Dr Field said.
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Page created: July 1999