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 (specifically the arches) 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 Middle East method is called falaka,[1] also spelled falaqa, falanga or phalanga, derivative from the Greek term falange. The common German term is Bastonade, in former times Sohlenstreich (sole strokes). Still it is mostly paraphrased with "fünfzig" (Schläge/Hiebe) auf die (nackten) Fußsohlen in colloquial German speech, literally translated by "fifty" (strokes) onto the (naked) soles of the feet. In China it is referred to as jiao xing.

The first documentation of bastinado in European civilizations 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), indicating that it has been practiced since ancient times.[3]

Foot whipping is mostly associated with Middle and Far Eastern civilizations, where it is occasionally executed in public and covered by reports and photographs. However, bastinado was also a conventional method in Western countries to enforce discipline in prisons, reformatories, boarding schools and similar institutions when a right of corporal punishment existed for the respective authorities. For instance, the Bastonade was a common form of corporal punishment particularly in German territories, where it has frequently been practiced in prisons as well as reform schools as disciplinary measure and employed rather extensively during the Nazi-Regime.[4][5][6][7]

For being generally executed closed off from the public in Western civilizations and due to its unspectacular appearance compared to generally known methods of judicial corporal punishment such as flagellation and caning, foot whipping is mostly disregarded in the context of corporal punishment. Even more as it merely served for internal disciplinary purposes to sanction misconduct or insubordination within prisons and similar institutions in Western countries and has generally not been imposed judicially.

Foot bottom caning is still a common form of disciplinary corporal punishment of prisoners in several countries as it is proven to be eminently painful while usually no severe or lasting injuries are caused. It is also 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 often put into practice where individuals are held in a situation of imbalance in power and are further subjected to corporal punishment, in particular if they are forced to remain barefoot as a general rule. These circumstances may be due to imprisonment, slavery, penal labour, involuntary or indentured servitude, socage service or even violent abduction.

While mostly passing unheeded for being rather nondescript in comparison to the common more drastic methods of corporal punishment, foot bottom caning has been an equally common method of disciplinary punishment throughout Central Europe until mid-20th century, especially in German territories.[4][5] During the German Nazi-era it was increasingly used within penitentiaries and labor camps as well as against natives in occupied territories such as Denmark and Norway.[8]

During the times of modern era slavery in Brazil or the American South it was often employed whenever so-called "clean beating" was indicated. This was the case, if a loss in marketable value should be averted for particularly younger female slaves which could incidentally occur through the commonplace whipping. As many slave-codes stipulated that all slaves had to go barefoot throughout, bastinado was an obvious choice for corporal punishment of the respective individuals.[9] So for castigation of younger women with accordingly higher marketable value bastinado was used alternatively, as it has been found to be as effective as more incisive methods but usually left no physical injuries in the long view.[10]

Bastinado has been and is still employed in police interrogations or as prison punishment in several countries. 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.[11] Within colonial India it was used for tax offenses. Romanian prisoners were punished through bastinado during the Ceausescu dictatorship.[8]

Practical application[edit]

Depiction of German Nazi-era bastonade table as used in several prisons

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. The common German method consisted in the delinquent being restrained prone on a wooden bench or a plank with the soles of the feet facing upwards in a full plantarflexion. The ankles and upper body were restrained to the device and the hands were tied behind. The person was hereby not able to move and rendered virtually immobile so the punishment could be carried out with enough preciseness to avoid inadvertent physical injury. The exposed soles were then beaten with a leather strap, a cane or a short whip. This was frequently employed in Nazi-regime women's penitentiaries, labor camps and prisons where detainees were frequently kept barefoot.[7][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 mainly to avert serious injuries that may occur, if the feet move out of position and are hit on an unintended spot. The middle eastern falaka method is hereby more prone to cause serious injuries than the former German bastonade method, as the person undergoing the falaka is still able to tilt the feet sideways and change their position from plantar- to dorsiflexion in reflex or anticipation. Random motions of the persons upper body further impair the accuracy. As a result the strokes impinge less precisely and injury-prone areas can be affected, whereas under the bastonade the person was practically rendered immobile with the feet particularly positioned in place unalterably. Moreover as the falaka method is generally carried out with a rigid wooden stick, it causes a high rate of blunt trauma to the musculoskeletal system as against the usage of flexible implements with the bastonade, where the stroke impact generally remains superficial.

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. 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]

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.[25] 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).[26]
  • 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.[27]
  • Kerala Police is supposed to have used this as a part of torturing Naxals during the emergency period.[28]
  • Reportedly used by Assad regime on Syrians in Homs.[29]
  • Use phalanx of torturing prisoners has been reported on the status of the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein in Iraq (1979-2003).

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. ^ 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. ^ a b 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. 276f.
  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. ^ Vgl. Ruxandra Cesereanu: An Overview of Political Torture in the Twentieth Century. S. 124f.
  17. ^ Rochelle G. Saidel: 30.10.2013
  18. ^ Jan Erik Schulte: Konzentrationslager im Rheinland und in Westfalen 1933-1945, Schoeningh Ferdinand GmbH, 2005. 30.10.2013.
  19. ^ Brandenburgische Landeszentrale für politische Bildung: [1]
  20. ^ „“ 29.03.2012 Berichte über Folter in Kinderheimen auf der Hohen Warte; 22.02.2014
  21. ^ Torture and Democracy von Darius Rejali. S. 275.
  22. ^ Christopher Pugsley, Gallipolli: The New Zealand Story, Appendix 1, p. 357.
  23. ^ 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. 
  24. ^ 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.
  25. ^ E/CN.4/1997/7 Fifty-third session, Item 8(a) of the provisional agenda UN Doc., 10 January 1997.
  26. ^ "An Analysis of the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum Legal Cases, 1998-2006" (PDF).
  27. ^ Sibongile Sukati (9 September 2010). "Sipakatane for rowdy foreigners". Times of Swaziland (Mbabane). 
  28. ^ "INDIA: Dalit boy tortured and humiliated at a police station in Kerala — Asian Human Rights Commission". Retrieved 2012-05-06. 
  29. ^ 4:33PM GMT 05 March 2012 (2012-03-05). "Secret footage showing 'torture' of Syrians in Homs hospital". Telegraph. Retrieved 2012-05-06.