Washington: Amnesty International on Wednesday urged Malaysia to end a caning "epidemic”, saying that authorities have meted out the punishment to thousands of men in addition to the high-profile case of three women.
Malaysian authorities said on Wednesday that they had caned three women for having extramarital sex in violation of Islamic law, a first in the Muslim-majority country.
But Amnesty International said the case was the "just the tip of the iceberg" and that Malaysia often caned men for routine offences.
Citing Malaysian authorities, the London-based human rights group said authorities caned more than 35,000 people -- mostly non-Malaysians -- for immigration violations since 2002.
"These thousands of cases point to an epidemic of caning in Malaysia," said Donna Guest, the group`s deputy Asia-Pacific director.
"The Malaysian government needs to abolish this cruel and degrading punishment, no matter what the offence," she said in a statement.
The latest caning case will fuel a debate over rising "Islamisation" in the ethnically diverse nation, where authorities last year sentenced a mother-of-two to six strokes of the cane for drinking beer in a nightclub.