STOCKHOLM (AFP) - A Malaysian couple were jailed on Friday by a Stockholm court for assaulting their four children while on a work assignment to Sweden where corporal punishment is illegal.
Azizul Awalludin, 38, and his wife Shalwati Norshal, 46, were sentenced to 10 and 14 months respectively for beating their children - aged seven to 14 - over a three-year period with a bamboo stick, a clothes hanger and their hands.
"I have spoken to my client (Awalludin) and he is of course very disappointed - he denied the charges," defence lawyer Jonas Tamm told AFP.
The court rejected the defence's claim that the oldest child had made up the abuse.
"That the children could conspire and agree together to put forward a false picture of domestic violence appears to be highly unlikely," the court said in its ruling, adding that the children had all been reluctant to give evidence.
The couple - in Sweden on an assignment for Tourism Malaysia but without diplomatic immunity - have been held on remand in Stockholm since December 2013, when staff at the children's school reported suspicions of abuse to social services.
"We analysed 30 hours of video interviews the police held with the children. It gave a very credible picture," Solna district court judge Mattias Moeller told news agency TT.
The case has shocked child rights experts in Sweden and sparked outrage in the couple's home country where smacking children is not a criminal offence.
Sweden was the first country in the world to ban smacking children in 1979 and has since been followed by 36 other countries.
"These cases are so extremely rare in Sweden today," child abuse expert Staffan Janson told AFP.
"The typical corporal punishment case involves a child telling teachers that their parents have hit them once or twice. But this is much more severe than what we're used to."
The couple's lawyers complained about the long remand period - the children were taken into care and later sent home to relatives in Malaysia - arguing that there was no risk of the parents re-offending during the trial.
The case has received intense media attention in Malaysia where a social media campaign to free the couple attracted tens of thousands of followers.
One columnist writing in the Malaysian daily The Star called Sweden's long remand period "a travesty of universal justice".
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak personally welcomed the children on their return to the country on Feb 1 and offered his support to the parents.