When will ‘justice’ mean just that in Malaysia? The story of the national tenpin bowler who recently escaped a prison sentence for statutory rape will not die.
Noor Afizal Azizan (left) was 18 when he raped a 13-year-old girl in 2009. Today, he is free to roam the streets and make Malaysia proud with his bowling skills.
It makes a mockery of promoting sportsmen to bring honour to our country. Noor Afizal’s successful appeal couldn’t have come at a worse time, when we are feeling euphoric about the successes of our athletes in the London 2012 Olympic Games.
The reporting in Bernama and the Malaysian mainstream papers on Aug 8 about Noor Afizal’s appeal has been scant. There are few details save the pertinent bits about the appeal judge’s decision. We know more about Noor Afizal’s skills than about his trial.
The sketchy information, derived from the mainstream papers, is summarised as follows:
- The rape occurred in June 2009.
- In July 2011, the Malacca Sessions Court placed Noor Afizal on probation for five years with a RM25,000 bond, when he pleaded guilty to the charge of rape. The report stated that “there was a consensual sexual relationship” between him and the girl.
- The public prosecutor appealed and the High Court overturned the Sessions Court ruling, then sentenced the bowler to imprisonment for five years.
First. That Noor Afizal should have been aware the girl was a minor.
Second. That Noor Afizal should have known better than to be sexually involved with the girl.
Third. That she and Noor Afizal were lovers.
After the High Court judgment, Noor Afizal lodged an appeal and in last week’s ruling, the appellate court overturned his jail sentence, but bound him over to be of good behaviour for five years, with a surety of RM25,000. A breach of the terms of this order would mean a spell in jail.
Malaysians are appalled. While every consideration has been given to the bowler, precious little has been said about the girl and the reaction of her family.
The age of consent for sexual activity in Malaysia is 16 years for both sexes. However, if both male and female are Muslim, then age does not matter - neither are allowed to have sex outside of marriage.
There are so many disquieting things about this case and the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality has asked the judiciary for clarification.
Many of us are not well versed in law and would welcome a statement from the authorities and especially from Najib Abdul Razak, the de facto women, family and community development minister, on this emotive subject.
A government which reacts to events is bad, but a government which says nothing is terrible.
Worrying aspects of case
Rape is reportedly on the rise but many victims are too ashamed to admit to having been raped. Most victims know their attacker and published figures for rape are lower than actual cases.
Noor Afizal’s case is worrying. He is a sports personality and this was his first offence. He is presumably being given a second chance. What of the girl?
A 13-year-old girl may have the body of a woman but is she as mentally developed? Can she make sound judgements involving her body? Is she aware of the consequences of having sex? Does she know how to say ‘No’? Can the boy respect her decision? What if she had become pregnant?
If she is a Muslim, marriage would have been one way out of the predicament, but she would have scuppered her education and prospects of a good job, in exchange for an uncertain future. No one is saying that teenage mothers are unable to bring up their children. Many have done so successfully, but this is no way to start a life.
It was said that there was a “consensual sexual relationship” between Noor Afizal and his lover. Was she coerced? Was she threatened? Does she know the difference?
Much has been said of the rapist and appeal judges, but there are other equally worrying aspects.
What was a young girl doing in an hotel in the early hours of the morning? Was she a latch-key kid? Was she feral? Had she sneaked out of her house at night? Was Noor Afizal a trusted family friend, who abused that trust?
Most people read about legitimate couples in hotel rooms being hounded by the moral police, but these two teenagers managed to have a sexual romp in a hotel, undetected.
Teenagers wandering the streets of our cities, late at night, and socialising at 24-hour mamak stalls are a common sight. Some are with family, but the majority are with friends. Does this generation have no boundaries? Do parents delegate the discipline of their children to school teachers?
This brings us to the question of sex education. The Education Ministry drags its feet when it comes to sex education in schools. Better education and awareness are necessary but the introduction of sex education in schools has stalled several times. In the meantime, teenage births and abandoned babies increase.
We also have the usual knee-jerk reaction of certain sections of the community which demand more religious education.
When will the authorities, and Najib, take a lead in this issue? We need a holistic solution that will engage lawmakers, educationists, community leaders, parents and professionals.
People need to feel safe. The law needs to be better understood by the rakyat. Muslims are subject to Syariah law - but in rape, Syariah needs four male witnesses and the chances of the woman getting a fair trial are doubtful. Nevertheless, civil action appears to have fared no better.
It is a shame that a manager of a bookstore is being hounded by both the religious authorities and the courts for doing her job, but that a tenpin bowler is let off after having a good time.
MARIAM MOKHTAR is a non-conformist traditionalist from Perak, a bucket chemist and an armchair eco-warrior. In ‘real-speak', this translates into that she comes from Ipoh, values change but respects culture, is a petroleum chemist and also an environmental pollution-control scientist.