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Tonga lashing sentence for teenagers sparks anger

18 February 10 15:37 GMT

Law officials and rights groups have condemned a judge for sentencing two teenage boys in Tonga to six lashes and 13 years in jail.

The boys had committed theft after escaping from jail, and were sentenced in November in a case only recently reported.

The sentence was imposed by judge Robert Shuster but is currently subject to appeal.

Flogging has not been used as a punishment in Tonga since the 1980s.

The prisoner is held down and lashed on the buttocks with a nine-stranded whip known as the "cat-o-nine-tails".

Tonga's Law Society president Laki Niu told New Zealand television on Wednesday he regarded flogging as barbaric, "inhumane" and "a form of torture".

Amnesty International said the sentence was "deplorable".

Its Pacific researcher Apolosi Bose said: "Amnesty opposes flogging as it is a cruel, inhumane and degrading punishment which has been banned by international law.

"We strongly urge the government of Tonga to repeal the legislative provisions which allow for flogging.

"We also hope that the Tongan Court of Appeal will allow the appeal against the sentence."

The teenagers were said to have had long criminal records for petty offences.

Prime Minister Feleti Sevele had refused to comment on the case because there were still legal proceedings, the Associated Press news agency reported.

But he said he did not see "any reason" to change the laws on corporal and capital punishment.

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