One Malaysian Olympian manages to unite the whole country and does our nation proud with his true grit, his fighting spirit and his hard work, but another sportsman, Noor Afizal Azizan, the Malaysian tenpin bowler, fills Malaysians with disgust.
Noor Afizal allegedly raped a 13-year-old girl in a hotel room in Ayer Keroh, Malacca, on June 5.
On Aug 7, he escaped punishment when the Court of Appeal president Raus Md Sharif set aside the five-year jail term imposed on Noor Afizal and agreed with Noor Afizal’s counsel, Hisyam Teh Poh Teik, that public interest would not be served by a custodial sentence, as Noor Afizal showed great promise.
Nothing was said about the future prospects of the victim – the girl Noor Afizal raped.
Hisyam said that Noor Afizal was 18 when the offence was committed.
Again, they ignored the age of Noor Afizal’s victim. She was only 13 years old when she was raped.
Is this how the judiciary works in Malaysia? Do judges in the Court of Appeal set aside justice because the needs of the alleged rapist are more important? In this case, the allged rapist happens to be a national bowler and could win medals for the country.
What has the de facto Women, Family and Community Development Minister Najib Tun Razak to say about this?
What are the views of the de facto Law Minister Nazri Abdul Aziz?
What are the priorities of the appeal judges? Is their primary concern the winning of sporting events?
Did they think Noor Afizal should be left off lightly as this is his first offence? Did they think as a nationl athlete, he could bring “honour” to the country through sport?
The actions of the Court of Appeal judges simply reinforce the views that women in Malaysia have no recourse to justice and that victims of rape are not important and their futures are not worth considering.
Around the world, sports personalities are required to behave. If they utter racist comments, they are hauled to court. If they misbehave on the pitch, they are banned and fined. If they commit rape, they are jailed. If they drive recklessly, their driving licences are taken away and they are put behind bars. If they are in possession of drugs, the punishment is severe.
Sports personalities are seen as role models for children and young people. Whatever they do, both on and off the pitch or court or bowling alley, is scrutinised by the rest of society.
Did the Court of Appeal judges stop to consider the consequences of their judgment? When people who are guilty of serious crimes are let off with a rap on the knuckles, then what is the message being conveyed to the public?
In Malaysia, young victims of rape wait a long time for their cases to be heard. If the government is serious about combating child sexual abuse, they should bring these cases to court quickly.
The child is growing and the effect of having to recall their unpleasant experiences can be devastating. When they are in their early teens, they are searching for their identity, and they are aware that they have become a victim of sex crime.
The cross-examination, to which they will be subjected, is detrimental to their pride. At this older age, they are more acutely embarrassed than when they were younger, and because of this, they may sometimes appear to be uncooperative.
Experts in the field have always maintained that the longer the case is dragged on, the better the outlook for the offender.
Noor Afizal allegedly raped his 13-year-old victim in 2009. In 2012, he was set free.
What of the girl? What of her future prospects? What of her educational future? What if she had become pregnant? Would he have married his victim and then divorced her, once he tired of her? As many Muslim men do.
Noor Afizal is praised as a tenpin bowling champion. He is probably funded by various sporting bodies to train and to go overseas for competitions.
And the girl? Who will help her deal with the long-term psychological and emotional trauma? Studies have shown that abused children grow into adults with suicidal tendencies and many other deleterious habits.
People who work with the victims of sex crimes allege that the offender often pleads guilty, just before the trial, to gain a lighter sentence. Was this the tactic employed by Noor Afizal, to escape a prison sentence?
Our judges have dented public confidence in the judiciary by failing to impose sentences that are seen as a deterrent.
The rape of a minor is statutory rape, whether or not it is concensual. What if the victim had been coerced or her life threatened?
Why is Malacca notorious for the rape of minors? What sort of justice can women get in Malaysia when it is alleged that even ministers and sports personalities can escape punishment just because of their position in society?
Mariam Mokhtar is a FMT columnist.