August 14, email@example.com pm
Decision that bowled ’em over
By Baradan Kuppusamy (08-14-12)@http://www.thestar.com.my
While judges have the discretion in handing down judgments, Netizens feel that letting national bowler Noor Afizal Azizan walk out free from the court sends the wrong message to potential rapists of the young and immature.
THERE is disgust and anger all over Twitter and Facebook over a decision by the Court of Appeal on Aug 8 to overturn a five-year jail term imposed by the Malacca High Court on national tenpin bowler Noor Afizal Azizan, who had confessed last year to raping an underage girl.
The Court Of Appeal, headed by Justice Raus Md Sharif, allowed a petition by the sportsman to restore an earlier decision by the Sessions Court that had only bound him over for good behaviour for five years to the sum of RM25,000.
The 21-year-old bowler had pleaded guilty at the Malacca Sessions Court on July 5 last year to raping the 13-year-old girl at a hotel in Air Keroh in 2009.
The court bound him over on a five-year good behaviour bond in the sum of RM25,000 because the judge felt the bowler had a “bright future” ahead of him.
Unhappy with the decision, prosecutors appealed for a stiffer custodial sentence, resulting in a five-year jail term for Noor Afizal on September 20 last year.
The bowler then appealed against the sentence to the Court of Appeal and the three-member panel unanimously set aside the jail term, setting off a firestorm on the Net.
Also on the panel were Court of Appeal judges Justice K.N. Segara and Justice Azhar Ma’ah.They agreed with counsel Hisyam Teh Poh Teik that public interest would not be served if Noor Afizal was sent to jail because he had a bright future.
These mitigating circumstances had worked in his favour but Netizens feel the decision sends a wrong signal to criminals in the charged political atmosphere that is made worse by high incidences of crime.
Statutory rape, or sexual assault against a girl aged below 16 – with or without her consent – is punishable with up to 20 years’ jail and whipping.No doubt there were mitigating circumstances but Netizens have lambasted the decision as manifestly unjust and unfair.
They say it makes the criminal justice system a comedy of errors. And They question if the rich and famous have one form of justice while the poor and the ordinary have another.
Connected individuals, they allege, escape justice with just a rap on the knuckles while the ordinary and mundane are punished with jail terms and whipping for the same offence.
Angry Netizens have set up a hash tag movement – #BrightFutureRapeOK – to discuss, debate and vent their feelings over the matter.MPs, child minders and women’s groups are among those expressing outrage and questioning the Court of Appeal’s decision to free the bowler.
“Why. Is. My. Country. So. Messed. Up,” tweeted citizen Davina Goh on her account @duuuhvina. “Justice gets bowled over #BrightFutureRapeOK,” Irwan Abdul Rahman said on his account @irwanargh.
While judges have discretion in handing down judgment, netizens feel that letting Noor Afizal walk free sends the wrong message to potential rapists of minors, who are considered immature to make decisions whether to have or not to have sex with their boyfriends.
They are justifiably outraged and express it in the best way they can – on the Net, where comments are more raw.
“Is ok to rape now in Malaysia if u could show the judge that u have a #BrightFutureRapeOK ahead,” one user said, expressing the general unhappiness with the ver- dict.
“How bright a future’ really? … even if he brings back the Olympics gold medal I’d still want justice served,” said Twitter user Adibah Noor on her account @adibahnoor.
The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality, comprising six women’s groups, urged the judiciary in a statement, to “clarify” its decision.
“We are troubled that the perpetrator’s potential for a bright future’, presumably derived from his status as a national athlete, was used as one of the grounds for sentencing,” it said.
“On the surface, the judgment appears to hint at the application of a double standard by implying that anyone with the right credentials’ can commit a crime, and get away with a rap on the knuckles,” it added.
Since the case started at the Sessions Court, the Court of Appeal is the final forum for appeals, leaving the demand from Netizens for justice squarely in the hands of the Attorney-General.
As Puchong MP Gobind Singh pointed out, the Attorney-General can ask for a review before the full bench of the Court of Appeal. He can but will he want to do it or leave the case as it is?