Foot whipping

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Foot whipping an offender, Iran, 1920s
Falak whipping the soles of a criminal. One of Antoin Sevruguin's historical Iran photographs

Foot whipping or bastinado is a form of corporal punishment in which the soles of a person's bare feet are repetitively beaten with an implement.

It is also referred to as foot/feet caning, sole caning, sole beating or foot bottom caning. The particular Mid East method is called falaka, also spelled falaqa, falanga or phalanga. German terms are Bastonade and in former centuries Sohlenstreich (sole-striking), also colloquially paraphrased with Schläge/Hiebe/"fünfzig" auf die Fußsohlen (strokes/"fifty" onto the soles of the feet).

The use of bastinado is documented from the year 960 in China, in Europe from 1537.[1] It is to be conceded, that foot whipping has been commonly practiced since ancient times, as it is referenced in the bible in multiple passages (Prov. 22:15; Lev. 19:20; Deut. 22:18).[2]

Foot whipping is associated mostly with middle and far eastern nations, where it is occasionally executed in public, therefore covered by reports and photographs. However different forms of bastinado were also a conventional method in western countries to enforce discipline in prisons, reformatories, boarding schools and similar institutions at times when a right to use corporal punishment existed. For instance, Bastonade was a common form of punishment, especially in German territories. It was commonly practiced in prisons as well as reform schools and also extensively employed during the Nazi-Regime as disciplinary measure.[3][4][5][6]

For being generally implemented closed off from the public in western civilizations and as it appears outwardly unspectacular compared to publicly better known practices such as flagellation and caning that were frequently employed as judicial corporal punishment for serious offenses, foot whipping, which merely served for disciplinary purposes to sanction misconduct or insubordination within prisons and similar institutions, is mostly disregarded in the context of corporal punishment.

Sole caning is still a common form of disciplinary corporal punishment of prisoners in different countries as it is eminently painful while usually no severe or lasting injuries are caused. It is also frequently used for political torture as physical evidence mostly remains undetectable after a relatively short period of recuperation and it can therefore be exerted repetitively over extended periods of time.

Regional appearance[edit]

Bastinado is predominantly used where individuals are held in captivity while principally barefoot and being subjected to the right of corporal punishment by authorities. The circumstance of being mostly involuntarily barefoot is generally caused by imprisonment, slavery, servitude or similar constellations of imbalance in power.

During the times of modern era slavery in Brazil or the American South it was used where so-called "clean beating" was indicated. For female slaves a loss in value should be averted which could occur through general whipping. As many slave-codes stipulated that all slaves had to go barefoot, bastinado was an obvious choice for corporal punishment.[7] So for castigation of especially younger women with accordingly higher marketable value bastinado was used, as it proved to be as effective but left no physical injuries.[8]

Bastinado is still used in secret police interrogations or acts of war. The French Sûreté used it to extract confessions, British occupants used it in Palestine, French occupants in Algeria. It was commonly used in Greek prisons, 83% of all prisoners reported the use of bastinado in 1967, it was also used against rioting students. In Spanish prisons it was used as 39% of the prisoners reported about it. Other nations with recorded utilizing of bastinado are Syria, Israel, Turkey, Marocco, Iran, Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Lebanon, Tunesia, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Brazil, Argentina, Nicaragua, Chile, South Afrika, Venezuela, Rhodesia, Zimbabwe, Paraguay, Honduras, Bolivia, Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Cameroon, Mauritius, Philippines, South Korea, Pakistan and Nepal. Within Europe, bastinado was reportedly used in Cyprus, Poland, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Georgia, Ukraine, Portugal, Macedonia, Slovakia and Croatia.[9] Within colonial India it was used for tax offenses. In national socialistic Germany it was commonly used within penitentiaries and labor camps as well as in occupied Denmark and Norway against natives. Romanian prisoners were punished through bastinado during the Ceausescu dictatorship.[10]

Practical application[edit]

Bastinado is mostly carried out with an auxiliary device such as a cane, a rod, a short leather whip, a flexible rubber bat, a leather strap or an electric cable. The prisoner is generally immobilized by different kinds of restraints before application of the beating. The middle eastern falaka method includes tying and securing the person's feet into an elevated position while lying on the back and beating with a wooden stick. The Persian term falaka refers to a wooden plank which is used to secure the feet prior to beating. However there were different methods of restraining the prisoner for the punishment. As a method formerly used in German Nazi-regime penitentiaries, labor camps and women's prisons where detainees were frequently kept barefoot, the inmate was restrained on a wooden bench or a plank lying prone with hands tied behind while the soles of the pointed feet were facing upwards. The upper body and ankles were additionally strapped down flat onto the plank so the prisoner was rendered immobile.[11] The exposed soles were then beaten with a leather strap, a cane or a short whip.[12] Common to all different methods the person is secured in a way to restrain the movements, so the position of the feet cannot be altered during the procedure. This is done to avert serious injuries that may occur, if the feet are moved out of position and hit on an unintended spot.

Physical effects[edit]

The strokes standardly impinge on the longitudinal arch of the foot which is the area most susceptible to pain due to the clustering of nerve endings. Under the utilization of flexible instruments with a narrow diameter the sensation of pain is described as stinging or lightning, the aftereffect as searing or burning and is relatively intense. The sensation of pain radiates through the whole body, similar to foot reflexology. The pain sensitivity of the soles does not recede under the impact of continuous beatings, the soles do not go numb and there is no inurement unlike other skin areas of the body. The subjective perception of pain rather escalates with an increasing number of strokes through ascending activation of the nociceptors. As a result even a slight impact can be perceived as highly painful after the nociceptors are activated to a certain degree. So with unchanged intensity of the strokes the perception of pain is gradually increasing to the point of maximum activation of the nociceptors. The subjective sensations of pain can however diverge due to the person's individual pain tolerance and further amplification through sentiments of anxiety and helplessness. Hereby an apprehensive person is generally more susceptible to pain the more anxious he or she is about it. [13][14]

When implemented with the usage of the above method with a flexible object of a narrow diameter the physical effects remain temporary with no injury to the numerous bones and tendons of the foot. They are sufficiently protected by the muscles of the foot, the impact of each stroke is absorbed by the skin and muscular tissue so it does not affect or harm the bones. Hematoma rarely occur because of the high thickness and elasticity of the skin under the sole of the foot similar to that of the palms.[15] So the affected person normally sustains no serious or lasting injuries indicating medical attention. Visible marks fade away within several hours, the aftereffects of pain also ease off gradually. A beaten person is normally still able to walk after the punishment. Because of the high effectiveness and the relatively minor efforts necessary the bastinado is still used as means of judicial punishment and torture in many countries.

If the bastinado is inflicted with heavy and inflexible objects using the middle eastern falaka method, it is a particularly brutal and cruel punishment. The wounds inflicted can take a long time to heal with lasting damage to the musculoskeletal system.

In history[edit]

  • This punishment has, at various times, been used in China, as well as the Middle East.
  • During the era of German National Socialism Sohlenstreich was administered in women's penitentiaries and penal camps, where female prisoners were frequently incarcerated barefoot.[6][16][17][18] During that period of time it was also regularly used in juvenile institutions under German administration.[3]
  • Foot whipping was used in juvenile protectories and institutions in Austria until the 1960s.[19]
  • In Massachusetts foot whipping was administered in juvenile penal institutions until 1969.[20]
  • Bahá'u'lláh (founder of the Bahá'í Faith) underwent foot whipping in August 1852 as a follower of the Babi religion. (Esslemont, 1937).
  • It was reported that Russian prisoners of war were "bastinadoed' at Afion camp by their Turkish captors during World War I. However British prisoners escaped this treatment.[21]
  • Foot whipping was used by Fascist Blackshirts against Freemasons critical of Benito Mussolini as early as 1923 (Dalzell, 1961).
  • British colonial police officer Charles Tegart is said to have instituted foot whipping, a practice derived from the former Ottoman rule, in an interrogation centre established at Jerusalem in 1938, as part of the effort to crush the 1936–39 Arab revolt in Palestine.
  • Applied by Soviet Union to Vsevolod Meyerhold in 1939.
  • Foot whipping was, among other methods, used as a method of obtaining confession from alleged political criminals during the communist regime of Czechoslovakia[22]
  • It was used as a method of torture during the regime of the Colonels in Greece, from 1967 to 1974.[23]
  • Foot whipping was used at the S-21 prison in Phnom Penh during the rule of the Khmer Rouge and is mentioned in the ten regulations to prisoners now on display in the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.
  • It was used throughout the Ottoman Empire.

In modern times[edit]

  • Foot whipping was a commonly reported torture method used by the security officers of Bahrain on its citizens between 1974 and 2001.[24] See Torture in Bahrain.
  • Falanga is allegedly used by the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) against persons suspected of involvement with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change parties (MDC-T and MDC-M).[25]
  • The Prime Minister of Swaziland, Barnabas Sibusiso Dlamini, threatened to use this form of torture (sipakatane) to punish South African activists who had taken part in a mass protest for democracy in that country.[26]
  • Kerala Police is supposed to have used this as a part of torturing Naxals during the emergency period.[27]
  • Reportedly used by Assad regime on Syrians in Homs.[28]

In literature[edit]

  • In act V, scene I of the Shakespearean comedy As You Like It, Touchstone threatens William with the line: "I will deal in poison with thee, or in bastinado, or in steel..."
  • In act I, scene X of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's opera, Die Entführung aus dem Serail ("The Abduction from the Seraglio"), Osmin threatens Belmonte and Pedrillo with bastinado: "Sonst soll die Bastonade Euch gleich zu Diensten steh'n."
  • In act I, scene XIX of Mozart's opera The Magic Flute, Sarastro orders Monostatos to be punished with 77 blows on the soles of his feet: "He! gebt dem Ehrenmann sogleich/nur sieben und siebenzig Sohlenstreich'."
  • In Chapter 8, Climatic Conditions, of Robert Irwin’s novel The Arabian Nightmare, Sultan’s doppelgänger is discovered and is questioned. “He was bastinadoed lightly to make him talk (for a heavy bastinado killed), but the man sobered up quickly and said nothing.”
  • In Chapter 31 of Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain, a member of Twain's party goes to collect a specimen from the face of the Sphinx and Twain sends a sheik to warn him of the consequences: " the laws of Egypt the crime he was attempting to commit was punishable with imprisonment or the bastinado."

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Torture and Democracy by Darius Rejali. p. 274.
  2. ^ "[BASTINADO"]. Retrieved 2014-03-06. 
  3. ^ a b "[Wimmersdorf: 270 Schläge auf die Fußsohlen"]. Retrieved 2014-03-03. 
  4. ^ "" vom 29. März 2012 Berichte über Folter im Kinderheim auf der Hohen Warte; 2014-03-03
  5. ^ Torture and Democracy von Darius Rejali. S. 275.
  6. ^ a b Ruxandra Cesereanu: An Overview of Political Torture in the Twentieth Century. p. 124f.
  7. ^ "Cape Town and Surrounds.". Western Cape Government. Retrieved 2013-07-14. 
  8. ^ Torture and Democracy by Darius Rejali. p. 277.
  9. ^ Torture and Democracy by Darius Rejali. p. 276f.
  10. ^ Torture and Democracy by Darius Rejali. p. 275
  11. ^ Ruxandra Cesereanu: An Overview of Political Torture in the Twentieth Century. p. 124f.
  12. ^ AI Newsletter 09-1987 Illustrated Reports of Amnesty International 20.01.2012
  13. ^ Schmerzrezeptoren in „MedizInfo“ about pain receptors; 20.01.2013.
  14. ^ Schmerz und Angst in „Praxisklinik Dr. med. Thomas Weiss“ about intensification of pain through anxiety; 20.01.2014.
  15. ^ Lederhaut in „MedizInfo“ about the dermis; 20.01.2014
  16. ^ Rochelle G. Saidel: 30.10.2013
  17. ^ Jan Erik Schulte: Konzentrationslager im Rheinland und in Westfalen 1933-1945, Schoeningh Ferdinand GmbH, 2005. 30.10.2013.
  18. ^ Brandenburgische Landeszentrale für politische Bildung: [1]
  19. ^ „“ 29.03.2012 Berichte über Folter in Kinderheimen auf der Hohen Warte; 22.02.2014
  20. ^ Torture and Democracy von Darius Rejali. S. 275.
  21. ^ Christopher Pugsley, Gallipolli: The New Zealand Story, Appendix 1, p. 357.
  22. ^ Kroupa, Mikuláš (10. března 2012). "Příběhy 20. století: Za vraždu estébáka se komunisté mstili torturou" [Tales of the 20th century: For the murder of a state security officer, the communists took revenge with torture]. iDnes (in Czech). Retrieved 2012-07-01. 
  23. ^ Pericles Korovessis, The Method: A Personal Account of the Tortures in Greece, trans. Les Nightingale and Catherine Patrarkis (London: Allison & Busby, 1970); extract in William F. Schulz, The Phenomenon of Torture: Readings and Commentary, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007, pp. 71-9.
  24. ^ E/CN.4/1997/7 Fifty-third session, Item 8(a) of the provisional agenda UN Doc., 10 January 1997.
  25. ^ "An Analysis of the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum Legal Cases, 1998-2006" (PDF).
  26. ^ Sibongile Sukati (9 September 2010). "Sipakatane for rowdy foreigners". Times of Swaziland (Mbabane). 
  27. ^ "INDIA: Dalit boy tortured and humiliated at a police station in Kerala — Asian Human Rights Commission". Retrieved 2012-05-06. 
  28. ^ 4:33PM GMT 05 March 2012 (2012-03-05). "Secret footage showing 'torture' of Syrians in Homs hospital". Telegraph. Retrieved 2012-05-06.