A group of Rohingya who survived a perilous sea voyage to Malaysia are set to be caned for entering the country illegally, activists said Tuesday, decrying the "barbaric" sentence.
Hundreds of thousands of Muslim Rohingya have fled persecution and violence in mostly Buddhist Myanmar in recent years, with some heading to neighboring Bangladesh and others by sea to Malaysia.
But since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Malaysia and other Southeast Asian countries which traditionally allowed Rohingya boats to land have been blocking them over fears the migrants could be infected.
A boat carrying 202 Rohingya made it to shore in northwest Malaysia in April -- but at least 20 men from that group had now been sentenced to jail terms and caning, said Amnesty International.
"These Rohingya have escaped Myanmar, but traded one nightmare for another," the group's Malaysia researcher Rachel Chhoa-Howard told AFP.
"Caning is a barbaric practice that amounts to torture, inhuman and degrading treatment, and Malaysia must abolish the use of such a punishment."
She said the caning will not deter Rohingya from fleeing to Malaysia, risking their lives at sea.
Malay-language newspaper Sinar Harian reported last month that a magistrate's court on Langkawi island, where the migrants came ashore, sentenced a group of Rohingya men to seven months jail and three strokes of the cane.
They were among a group of 54 Rohingya, including women and children, charged under immigration laws for illegally entering the country.
Authorities did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Malaysia has strengthened maritime patrols and has repeatedly pushed back boats trying to enter the country since the start of the virus pandemic.
But as well as the vessel in April, a boat carrying more than 260 Rohingya made it to shore last month after authorities discovered it floating off the coast, badly damaged.