Foot whipping

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Foot whipping an offender, Iran, 1920s

Bastinado or foot whipping are the most common terms for beating the soles of a person's feet as a form of corporal punishment.

The undergoing person is essentially required to be barefoot for this particular method of punishment. The beating is typically inflicted with an object in the type of a cane or a crop and repeated over a varying number of times while it is usually targeted at the vaults or arches of the foot. Infrequent strokes however impact on the heels and balls of the feet as well due to incidental imprecisions in execution.

It is also referred to as foot (bottom) caning or sole caning. The particular Middle East method is called falaka or falanga,[1] derivative from the Greek term phalanx. The German term is Bastonade, deriving from the Italian noun bastonata (stroke with the use of a stick), in former centuries it was also referred to as Sohlenstreich (corr. striking the soles). The chinese term is jiao xing.

The first documentation of bastinado in Europe dates back to the year 1537, in China to 960.[2] It is referenced in the Bible in multiple passages (Prov. 22:15; Lev. 19:20; Deut. 22:18), suggesting the practice of foot whipping since antiquity.[3]

Bastinado is mostly associated with Middle and Far Eastern nations, where it is occasionally executed in public and covered by reports and photographs. However it has been practiced within prisons, reformatories, boarding schools and similar institutions in Western countries as well.

In Europe bastinado was a common form of corporal punishment particularly in German areas, where it was routinely carried out to enforce discipline within the penal and reformatory system, at this used extensively during the Nazi-Regime. In several German and Austrian institutions it was still practiced during the 1950s.[4][5][6][7] Although bastinado was rather commonplace within Western penal institutions, it is usually disregarded in the context of corporal punishments primarily as it was not adjudged for criminal acts, but typically practiced to sanction misconduct or infractions in custody. Also foot whipping is outwardly rather unspectacular compared to more commonly accounted punishment methods and was not performed in public so there were barely any witnesses except for the persons directly involved.

To this day bastinado is frequently used for punishment of prisoners in several countries (see below). As it typically inflicts a high level of pain on the receiving person while physical evidence remains practically undetectable, it is often used for interrogations and torture in oppressive regimes as well.


Bastinado is typically implemented in situations, where individuals are subjected to an authoritative right of corporal punishment. This subform of flagellation is hereby mostly prevalent where the subjected individuals have to remain barefoot by design, such as prison facilities in several countries of today and incarceration settings of the past. It also came to be used in the context of slavery.


Foot whipping was a common method of disciplinary corporal punishment in different kinds of institutions throughout Central Europe until the 1950s, especially in German territories.[4][5] During the German Nazi-regime it was widely made use of within penal institutions and labor camps. It was also frequently employed in occupied territories against the native population, cases are reported from Denmark and Norway.[8]

During the era of slavery in Brazil and the American South it was often inflicted whenever so-called "clean beating" was indicated. This was the case when the loss in marketable value which could be caused by visible injuries sustained through the predominant whipping was to be avoided. As slave-codes often constrained slaves to remain barefoot throughout, bastinado could be made use of with minimal effort.[9] As it was effective but usually left no visible or impeding injuries, bastinado was often used as an alternative for female slaves with higher marketable value.[10]

Bastinado has been and is presently used as prison punishment in several countries as well as for interrogations. It was frequently used in Greek prisons, as 83% of all inmates reported about the infliction of bastinado in a 1967 survey. It was also used against rioting students. In Spanish prisons 39% of the inmates reported about this kind of treatment in a questionnaire. The French Sûreté used it to extract confessions from suspects. British occupants made use of it in Palestine, French occupants in Algeria. Within colonial India it was used against tax offenders. Within penal institutions in Europe bastinado was reportedly used in Germany, Austria, France, Spain, Greece, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Portugal, Macedonia, Lithuania, Georgia, Ukraine, Cyprus, Slovakia and Croatia. Other nations with recorded use 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.[11]

In history[edit]

Modern era[edit]

  • Foot whipping was a commonly reported torture method used by the security officers of Bahrain on its citizens between 1974 and 2001.[21] 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).[22]
  • 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.[23]
  • Kerala Police is supposed to have used this as a part of torturing Naxals during the emergency period.[24]
  • Reportedly used by Assad regime on Syrians in Homs.[25]
  • Use phalanx of torturing prisoners has been reported on the status of the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein in Iraq (1979-2003).
  • Reportedly used in Tunisia by security forces.[26]
  • Recent research in imaging of torture victims confirms it is still used in several other countries.[27]

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."

Basic methods[edit]

Middle Eastern falaka using a horizontal plank (Iran, photo by Antoin Sevruguin
Depiction of punishment bench as used for bastinado in several German prisons during the Nazi-era

Bastinado is typically implemented with a beating accessory such as a cane or rod, more infrequently a short whip or strap. The prisoner is barefooted and restrained in a way, that contortions of the body do not disrupt the process and the feet cannot be shifted out of position. The intention is to avert serious injuries of the forefoot by stray hitting, especially of the fracturable toes, so the stroke impacts are largely absorbed by the muscular tissue inside the vaults of the feet.

The Middle Eastern falaka method entails tying up the person's feet into an elevated position while lying on the back, the beating is generally done with a solid wooden stick. The term falaka describes the wooden plank used to tie up the ankles, however different devices are used for this purpose. The more unlike German method that was used pending the end of the Nazi-regime consisted in fastening the prisoner prone onto a wooden bench or a plank forcing the exposed feet into a pointed posture (plantar flexion) with the bare undersides facing upward. The upper body and ankles were fastened onto the bench with hands tied behind. The person was hereby rendered practically immobile so the strokes could be inflicted with a high level of accuracy, mostly using a cane or short whip. This form was mainly used in women's prisons and labor camps where inmates often had to remain barefoot uniformly.[7][28]

The middle eastern falaka is notably more prone to cause severe bodily harm such as bone fractures and nerve damage than the former German method, as the person undergoing the falaka is still able to tilt the feet sideways and change their position. As a result the strokes impact rather randomly and injury-prone spots are often affected. As the falaka is typically carried out with a rigid stick, it frequently causes blunt trauma to the musculoskeletal system leaving the person unable to walk for some time. For the German method the ankles and upper body were tightly fastened in place so rendering the prisoner unable to move in almost any way, while the actual beating was carried out with thin or flexible implements of lighter weight. Hereby severe injuries were averted to a large extent so the person normally remained capable of walking subsequently.


The strokes usually aim at the vaults of the feet, an acutely pain susceptible area due to the tight clustering of nerve endings, which causes a number of corporeal and mental reactions for the person subjected to this form of punishment.

Corporeal reactions[edit]

When using thin and flexible instruments the sensations are described as stinging or lightning, the aftereffect as searing or burning while the pain experience upon impact is relatively intense and reflexively spreads through the body. The pain sensitivity of the soles does not recede under continuous beatings as there is no adaptation to recurring pain sensations unlike other skin areas. To the contrary the subjective perception of pain escalates through additional impacts due to an increasing activation of the nociceptors. With a certain level of activation, an impact usually perceived as not painful as such can therefore already cause a slight to intense pain sensation for the receiving person. So despite a constant or slightly subsiding intensity of impacts the person's subjective perception of pain is gradually increasing up to a certain degree.

The subjective experience of physical pain can also diverge according to the person's individual pain tolerance and possible amplification through sentiments of fear and anxiety. Hereby the human organism is generally more susceptible to pain the more agitated the person is about it.[29][30]

When implemented with a thin and flexible object the physical effects usually remain temporary with no injury to the numerous bones and tendons of the foot as they are protected by the muscles of the foot. The impact is largely absorbed by the skin and muscular tissue so it does not affect the bones. Hematoma rarely occur because of the high thickness and elasticity of the skin under the foot similar to that of the palms, so the person normally sustains no serious injuries indicating medical attention.[31] Visible marks recede within hours while the painful aftereffects also ease off. The person usually remains able to walk after the punishment if no massive objects are used for the beating.

If the bastinado is applied with heavy and inflexible objects using the middle eastern falaka method, the injuries sustained can take a long time to heal with lasting or irreversible damage to the musculoskeletal system.

Mental distress[edit]

Being forced to stay barefoot, notably in a detention situation, can by itself have an unsettling effect on a person and cause feelings of insecurity due to the natural vulnerability of bare feet. This circumstance can further aggravate the common agitation by the hardships of incarceration and the discomfort of a prison environment. Hereby a prisoner often perceives the unaccustomed and typically reluctant visual exposure of his or her bare feet as an element of degradation. As in respective cases it is generally experienced as a common earmark for imprisonment it is also regarded as victimizing and oppressive. The cumulation of these circumstances can already lead to a certain level of mental distress as well as a constant sense of intimidation for an incarcerated individual.[32] The psychological ramifications of a barefoot constraint are usually escalated if the sensitive soles of the feet moreover serve as a primary target for corporal punishment.

As the feet are standardly concealed and sufficiently protected within shoes, expressly avoiding to expose the uncovered soles in any social situation as this is placed under a taboo in most cultures, their forcible display for the purpose of bastinado induces considerable humiliation and distress on the individual. The actual beating especially conveys the steep imbalance in power between the executing participants (typically police or correctional officers) towards the receiving individual (usually detainee or prisoner) as a normally inaccessible, well protected and therefore rather private segment of the body is accessed. Hereby the powerlessness of the recipient is demonstrated in a particularly distinct manner. This aspect of showcased degradation potentiates the primarily angst-inducing elements of corporal punishment, such as being defenseless against the continuous infliction of pain as well as being unable to flee due to the restraints applied. Therefore foot whipping is irrespective of the sustained physical suffering usually perceived as severely more degrading as the various other appearances of flagellation as those do not aim at typically concealed parts of the body but at more commonly disclosed areas.

The entire situation of the bastinado involving a high rate of physical and mental suffering along with the subjugating restraints is mostly perceived as gravely humiliating by the receiving individual. The eventual loss of self-control due to the acute pain as well as the cognition of absolute helplessness especially in a situation of ongoing imprisonment often profoundly damages the individual’s self-esteem. The unmitigated experiences of vulnerability and helplessness under the procedure can also deconstruct the self-perception of the defenseless individual.

As a result a punishment by means of bastinado primarily has a detrimental emotional impact on the receiving person. For that reason foot whipping is regarded as one of the most intimidatory and effectual methods of corporal punishment and is therefore frequently employed in penal institutions of several countries in the present and past (see above).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Cfr. Wolfgang Schweickard, Turkisms in Italian, French and German (Ottoman Period, 1300-1900). A historical and etymological dictionary s.v. falaka
  2. ^ Torture and Democracy by Darius Rejali. p. 274.
  3. ^ "[BASTINADO"]. Retrieved 2014-03-06. 
  4. ^ a b c "[Wimmersdorf: 270 Schläge auf die Fußsohlen"]. Retrieved 2014-03-03. 
  5. ^ a b "" vom 29. März 2012 Berichte über Folter im Kinderheim auf der Hohen Warte; 2014-03-03
  6. ^ Torture and Democracy von Darius Rejali. S. 275.
  7. ^ a b Ruxandra Cesereanu: An Overview of Political Torture in the Twentieth Century. p. 124f.
  8. ^ Torture and Democracy by Darius Rejali. p. 275
  9. ^ "Cape Town and Surrounds.". Western Cape Government. Retrieved 2013-07-14. 
  10. ^ Torture and Democracy by Darius Rejali. p. 277.
  11. ^ Torture and Democracy by Darius Rejali. p. 275f.
  12. ^ Torture and Democracy von Darius Rejali. S. 275.
  13. ^ „“ 29.03.2012 Berichte über Folter in Kinderheimen auf der Hohen Warte; 22.02.2014
  14. ^ Vgl. Ruxandra Cesereanu: An Overview of Political Torture in the Twentieth Century. S. 124f.
  15. ^ Rochelle G. Saidel: 30.10.2013
  16. ^ Jan Erik Schulte: Konzentrationslager im Rheinland und in Westfalen 1933-1945, Schoeningh Ferdinand GmbH, 2005. 30.10.2013.
  17. ^ Brandenburgische Landeszentrale für politische Bildung: [1]
  18. ^ 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.
  19. ^ Christopher Pugsley, Gallipolli: The New Zealand Story, Appendix 1, p. 357.
  20. ^ Kroupa, Mikuláš (10 March 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. 
  21. ^ E/CN.4/1997/7 Fifty-third session, Item 8(a) of the provisional agenda UN Doc., 10 January 1997.
  22. ^ "An Analysis of the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum Legal Cases, 1998-2006" (PDF).
  23. ^ Sibongile Sukati (9 September 2010). "Sipakatane for rowdy foreigners". Times of Swaziland (Mbabane). 
  24. ^ "INDIA: Dalit boy tortured and humiliated at a police station in Kerala — Asian Human Rights Commission". Retrieved 2012-05-06. 
  25. ^ 05 March 2012 (2012-03-05). "Secret footage showing 'torture' of Syrians in Homs hospital". Telegraph. Retrieved 2012-05-06. 
  26. ^ "Justice en Tunisie : un printemps inachevé". ACAT. 
  27. ^
  28. ^ AI Newsletter 09-1987 Illustrated Reports of Amnesty International 20.01.2012
  29. ^ Schmerzrezeptoren in „MedizInfo“ about pain receptors; 20.01.2013.
  30. ^ Schmerz und Angst in „Praxisklinik Dr. med. Thomas Weiss“ about intensification of pain through anxiety; 20.01.2014.
  31. ^ Lederhaut in „MedizInfo“ about the dermis; 20.01.2014
  32. ^ "Long hours in a Harare jail.". BBC News. June 1, 2002. Retrieved October 6, 2014.