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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 contemporary German term is Bastonade, derivative from the Italian verb bastonare (to beat), in former times also Sohlenstreich (lit. the sole strike). 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), suggesting the practice since antiquity.[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 the right of corporal punishment existed for authorities. For instance, the Bastonade was a common form of corporal punishment particularly in German territories, where it was frequently practiced in the penal and reformatory system and employed extensively during the Nazi-Regime. In several German and Austrian institutions is was still routinely employed during the 1950ies.[4][5][6][7]

For being generally carried out closed off from the general public in Western civilizations and further due to its unspectacular appearance compared to publicly better known forms of corporal punishment such as flagellation and caning, the bastinado is largely disregarded in the context of corporal punishment although is was a self-evident implement in the penal system at times when the right of corporal punishment was prevalent herein. Even more as it predominantly served for internal disciplinary purposes within Western prisons and similar institutions rather than being imposed judicially.

Foot caning is still a common form of disciplinary corporal punishment of prisoners in several countries as it is eminently painful while severe or lasting injuries are largely averted. It is therefore used as means of political torture as physical evidence remains practically undetectable after a relatively short period of recuperation and it can be exerted repetitively over extended periods of time.


Bastinado is particularly prevalent where individuals subjected to corporal punishment are generally forced to remain barefoot. These circumstances were and are mostly induced by situations of imbalance of power such as imprisonment, slavery, penal labour, involuntary or indentured servitude, socage service or even violent abduction.

Foot bottom caning has been a common method of disciplinary punishment throughout Central Europe until the 1950ies, especially in German territories.[4][5] During the German Nazi-era it was frequently used within penal institutions 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 slaves of the female gender which would occur through the commonplace whipping. As many slave-codes stipulated that all slaves had to remain barefoot, bastinado could easily be used for corporal punishment of the respective individuals.[9] So for younger women with higher marketable value bastinado was used alternatively, as it was as effective as more incisive methods but usually left no severe physical injuries.[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. Within colonial India it was used for tax offenses. 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 Germany, Austria, France, Spain, Greece, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Portugal, Macedonia, Lithuania, Georgia, Ukraine, Cyprus, Slovakia and Croatia.[11]


Depiction of bastinado bench as used in several German prisons during the Nazi-era

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 usually immobilized by different means of restraints for the punishment. The Middle Eastern falaka method implies tying and securing the person's feet into an elevated position while lying on the back, beating is generally done with a wooden stick. The Persian term falaka refers to the eponymous wooden plank which is used to secure the feet prior to beating. However different methods of restraining the individual were used according to different practical approaches. The German method during the Nazi-regime consisted in restraining the prisoner prone to a wooden bench or a plank with the soles of the feet facing upwards forcing a full plantarflexion. The ankles and upper body were restrained to the bench with hands tied behind. The person was hereby rendered practically immobile so the punishment could be carried out with sufficient preciseness to avoid unwanted injury. The prisoner's soles were beaten with a leather strap, cane or short whip. This was frequently employed in women's prisons and labor camps where detainees were mainly kept barefoot.[7][12]

Common to all methods the person is secured to restrain the motions in a way, so the position of the feet cannot be altered during the procedure. This is done mainly to avert serious injuries that mostly occur, if the feet are moved out of position and hit in an injury-prone area. The middle eastern falaka method is hereby more prone to cause 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. Motions of the person's upper body further impair the accuracy. As a result the strokes impact randomly and injury-prone areas can be affected. Under the German bastonade the person was practically rendered immobile with the feet and ankles tightly fastened in place. Moreover as the falaka method is generally carried out with a massive stick, it causes a high rate of blunt trauma to the musculoskeletal system as against the usage of thin and mostly flexible implements with the bastonade, where the stroke impact remains superficial.


A punishment by means of bastinado is set to cause a variety of different physical and psychological effects for the receiving individual.


The strokes usually aim at the longitudinal arch of the foot which is the area most susceptible to pain due to the clustering of nerve endings. 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 abate under continuous beatings as the foot bottoms do not go numb and there is no adaptation to recurring pain sensations unlike other skin areas. On the contrary the subjective perception of pain escalates with each additional impact through increasing activation of the nociceptors. With a certain level of activation, an impact usually perceived as not painful can therefore already evoke an intense pain sensation. So despite a constant intensity of impacts the person's subjective perception of pain is gradually increasing up to a certain degree. The subjective experience of pain can further 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.[13][14]

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.[15] 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 however is inflicted with heavy and inflexible objects using the middle eastern falaka method, the inflicted wounds can take a long time to heal with lasting or irreversible damage to the musculoskeletal system.


Being forced to remain barefoot in a detention situation can by itself cause considerable mental distress on an individual with sentiments of heightened practical and emotional insecurity due to the general sensibility and vulnerability as well as the unwonted visual exposure of the feet.[16] These effects are usually vastly aggravated if their particularly sensitive undersides are the target for a means of physical punishment, hereby leading to a profound effect of intimidation on the usually defenseless detainee.

As the feet are habitually clothed in and protected by shoes as a self-evident sociocultural feature with notably the skin area of the undersides to no degree visible to other people, the forced presentation of entirely unclothed feet, particularly the unprotected soles, mostly induces an aggrieving impact on the respective individual. The primal beating of the visibly displayed foot bottoms, a comperatively private part of the body ordinarily hidden and inaccessible, hereby signifies a steep imbalance in power between the executing party (such as prison staff) towards the receiving person (prison inmate) which can already have a severely demoralizing effect. The entire process, usually involving restraints rendering the person immobile and an enforced subjugating posture along with vast experiences of inflicted physical pain, is generally perceived as particularly humiliating by the receiving individual.

The mostly incurring loss of self-control due to the incisive experiences of somatic suffering during the execution, which is usually accompanied by a cognition of absolute helplessness, can further cause persistent damage to the captive person's self-esteem and self-perception. The circumstances of the punishment are also set to evolve a dishonoring effect in the sociological context.

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.[26] 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).[27]
  • 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.[28]
  • Kerala Police is supposed to have used this as a part of torturing Naxals during the emergency period.[29]
  • Reportedly used by Assad regime on Syrians in Homs.[30]
  • 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.[31]

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: "...by 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. ^ www.biblegateway.com "[BASTINADO"]. Retrieved 2014-03-06. 
  4. ^ a b c kurier.at "[Wimmersdorf: 270 Schläge auf die Fußsohlen"]. Retrieved 2014-03-03. 
  5. ^ a b "krone.at" 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. ^ 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. ^ cite news|title=Long hours in a Harare jail.|url=http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/from_our_own_correspondent/2018917.stm%7Caccessdate=October 6, 2014|newspaper=BBC News|date=June 1, 2002
  17. ^ Vgl. Ruxandra Cesereanu: An Overview of Political Torture in the Twentieth Century. S. 124f.
  18. ^ Rochelle G. Saidel: 30.10.2013
  19. ^ Jan Erik Schulte: Konzentrationslager im Rheinland und in Westfalen 1933-1945, Schoeningh Ferdinand GmbH, 2005. 30.10.2013.
  20. ^ Brandenburgische Landeszentrale für politische Bildung: [1]
  21. ^ „krone.at“ 29.03.2012 Berichte über Folter in Kinderheimen auf der Hohen Warte; 22.02.2014
  22. ^ Torture and Democracy von Darius Rejali. S. 275.
  23. ^ Christopher Pugsley, Gallipolli: The New Zealand Story, Appendix 1, p. 357.
  24. ^ 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.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  25. ^ 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.
  26. ^ E/CN.4/1997/7 Fifty-third session, Item 8(a) of the provisional agenda UN Doc., 10 January 1997.
  27. ^ "An Analysis of the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum Legal Cases, 1998-2006" (PDF).
  28. ^ Sibongile Sukati (9 September 2010). "Sipakatane for rowdy foreigners". Times of Swaziland (Mbabane). 
  29. ^ "INDIA: Dalit boy tortured and humiliated at a police station in Kerala — Asian Human Rights Commission". Humanrights.asia. Retrieved 2012-05-06. 
  30. ^ 4:33PM GMT 05 March 2012 (2012-03-05). "Secret footage showing 'torture' of Syrians in Homs hospital". Telegraph. Retrieved 2012-05-06. 
  31. ^ "Justice en Tunisie : un printemps inachevé". ACAT. 

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