The following article is submitted to the Editorial of Malaysia Gazette by reader, Nirvana Jalil Ghani.
MARA maths scholar, Nur Fitri Azmeer Nordin, who was studying at Imperial College in Maly 2015 when he was arrested, tried and charged with producing and possessing thousands of “Category A” images, depicting penetrative sex with minors. This caused an outrage amongst our Malaysian public at the time not because he was arrested but as to how a scholar such as himself was able to commit such a crime overseas and put us Malaysians to shame.
The British Metropolitan Police said that Nur Fitri had amassed around 30,000 images of child pornography which they described as some of the most extreme they had witnessed.
I remember this case very well as I was working as the press secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs Malaysia, YB Dato’ Sri Anifah Haji Aman at the time. It was a shock even to us as to how a promising scholar could commit such an offence at the time.
Dato’ Sri Anifah Haji Aman then Foreign Minister of Malaysia was one of the most vocal in condemning the crime and said that Malaysian students have a duty to focus on their studies and uphold the good name and image of the country whilst studying abroad.
Dato’ Sri Anifah also added his voice to growing calls for a sex offender’ list in the country, particularly those involving crimes against children.
“As a committed member of the international community, I think that it is high time that Malaysia consider establishing a register of convicted paedophiles that would be made publicly known so that parents and communities with young children will feel safer,” he said, adding that it will be a strong deterrent against the crime.
Now fast forward to August 2019, Mariam Mokhtar wrote and reported that Nur Fitri Nordin was now studying at UKM and that the then Minister of Rural and Regional Development, Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal and MARA Chairman, Tan Sri Annuar Musa wanted to give this paedophile a second chance and what makes matter worse is that although Nur Fitri Azmeer Nordin was charged in the UK, he was not EVEN on our sexual offenders list? How bizarre is this? It was even confirmed by the then Deputy Women, Family and Community Development Minister Hannah Yeoh on 23 August 2019.
The then Deputy Women, Family and Community Development Minister Hannah Yeoh excuse was that a list to record sex offenders was compiled only in 2017 when explaining the exclusion of a Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) PhD student convicted of possessing child pornography.
Yeoh said the Sexual Offences Against Children (SOAC) Act 2017 only came into force in July that year.
This meant that the government only had records of convictions from 2017 onwards.
In the case of maths genius Nur Fitri Azmeer Nordin, she said his conviction was recorded in the United Kingdom in 2015. He had also served his jail term, was released and returned to Malaysia, she said in a series of tweets.
Nur Fitri was sentenced to five years’ jail in 2015 after he pleaded guilty in a London court for keeping over 30,000 images and videos of child pornography.
British police had then said that the files he kept were the “most extreme material” they had come across. He was extradited to Malaysia after serving a reduced jail sentence from 18 months to nine.
Is this not enough information for our Malaysian Government to place Nur Fitri a convicted Category A offender as convicted by the British Government under the Malaysian Sex Offenders’ list? Even so, why has the list not been made public? And more importantly why does the Sex Offenders’ list remain under the care of a Ministry not having the correct authority? Shouldn’t the list be under the care of the Home Ministry? Why does it take 5 days for any member of public to get any information on who is on the Sexual Offender’s list and even so the process to obtain the information remains rigid and NOT so public friendly?
Some may argue that paedophilia is a mental illness and may use it as an excuse for reformation of offenders and giving offenders second chances. However, as a mother of four children that are still under the age of 16, I for one am not willing to take the chance to forgive such an offence nor do I wish to take the risk of the offender repeating the offence.
What if Nur Fitri who is not even registered in our Malaysian Sex Offenders’ list one day decides to become a primary school teacher? How confident are we that he will not repeat the act or God forbid go further and become more daring? Are we willing to place our children’s wellbeing at risk? As a parent I urge the Senior Officials in Government within the relevant industries to provide answers.
Do we even have a system or an aptitude test currently in Government that detects applicants with heavy tendency to do such an act? Especially for ones that might or will be exposed or have access to children or even teenagers in their line of work. It would be interesting to find out.
It is indeed very disappointing that since 2015, we are still no where near having the proper procedures to ensure the necessary people are registered in our Malaysian Sex Offenders’ List nor are we allowing the necessary access to the information by the Public.
Unfortunately, Nur Fitri’s case is not an isolated case when it comes to Sexual offences committed by Sexual offenders. What about the Canny Ong case in 2003? Was it really the first sexual offence for the offender? Was he even on any sexual offenders list? Some studies claim that sexual offenders that escalate to murder normally would have committed sexual offences in the past prior to the murder before even having the guts to commit murder. The offender Ahmad Najib Aris, then 27, was given wide publicity, stunned the nation with horrific details of the abduction, rape, murder and the dumping of Canny’s body into a manhole before it was torched.
Another case which was reported by Kembara Kitchen founder William Cheah in 2018 where he reported that a 36-year-old man had allegedly been sexually grooming underage girls he met via charity groups and churches he volunteered at and that the alleged paedophile had been preying on young girls in Malaysia via Facebook for the last 10 years (since 2008).
More than 15 of them stepped forward at the time to recount their encounters with the paedophile since his messages with girls as young as 14 years old were posted on Facebook. Do we even know if this paedophile as reported by The Straits Times was ever even registered on our Sex Offenders’ list?
Sadly, many cases such as the ones I’ve mentioned seem to exist in Malaysia, but do we take offences such as these seriously?
It was a British court that handed Richard Huckle 22 life sentences in June 2018 for abusing up to 200 babies and children, mostly in Malaysia, and sharing images of his crimes on the dark web.
Again, some may argue that the reason the Malaysian government does not publish child sexual abuse data is because it is protected under Malaysia’s Official Secrets Act. The government provides data on child abuse only at the request of a member of parliament. Now I can understand if we do not publish the name of the victims especially being minors but why can’t we name and shame the offenders? This could be an act to deter future or potential offenders from committing similar offences. Should we not be given the opportunity to defend our children and do we not have the right to feel safe?
Dare I say that Foreign paedophiles could be targeting Malaysia as other countries around the region strengthen child protection laws and step-up enforcement, some experts said.
Snow White Smelser, programme officer at the child sex offences team in the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s (UNODC) East Asia headquarters in Bangkok, said in 2018 that paedophiles compare notes and share information online about countries, where they can operate most freely.
Weak Child protection laws make it difficult to punish child abusers in Malaysia, leading to inadequate investigations and low convictions on the reported cases, according to officials and child welfare groups Reuters interviewed.
With all these cases happening and even more under the radar happening, are we as Malaysians taking the issue of paedophilia, sexual child abuse and the need for a proper sexual offenders list that is made public too lightly? God forbid paedophiles target Countries such as Malaysia due to weak laws on Sexual offenders. Do we want our country to become famous for all the wrong reasons? These are questions which should be answered.
It is high time that the Malaysian Government act and provide our Enforcers such our Police Force the right laws and tools for them to be able to act accordingly and it is also high time that the Malaysian Public be given the right tools and access to information when it comes to sexual offences especially those involving minors. We the public need a sense of security and should have the right to know if a sexual offender is anywhere near the vicinity of our children and women. I implore the Malaysian Government to allow less rigid and easier public access to the Sex Offenders’ list and that the right Ministry such as the Ministry of Home Affairs takes charge of such a list.
-Nirvana Jalil Ghani-
16 February 2021
Editorial note: The views expressed are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysia Gazette