After being subjected to months of media spotlight, it must seem like a fairly happy ending for the Malaysian couple convicted of child abuse in Sweden. They would probably love nothing more than to go on with their lives like nothing has happened.
The mother, Shalwati Norshal, returned home last week after serving just six months of the original 14-month sentence. Her husband Azizul Raheem Awalludin served only three months.
The two of them were not only welcomed home with fanfare, but were celebrated by their employees in the civil service.
Azizul continues to work with Tourism Malaysia since July. He still holds the same position as he did before he was convicted, albeit in a different department.
Upon his return to work, the agency’s director-general Mirza Mohd Taiyab even announced Azizul as its special guest at a breaking fast event.
Meanwhile, Shalwati told reporters upon her return that she looks forward to teaching at the all-girls boarding school Sekolah Seri Puteri soon, where we can assume she will be welcomed with open arms despite her child abuse conviction.
Azizul, despite serving three months less jail time than his wife, has reportedly admitted to his error. This remorse however is not evident when it comes to Shalwati.
She told reporters on Friday that her incarceration has not led her to regret her actions, and she staunchly defended herself and her action.
According to media reports, Shalwati still thinks it is fine to hit children, claiming a clash of cultures with Sweden: “I believe many parents in Malaysia would understand mine and my husband’s action.”
While there are many parents who would undoubtedly object to Shalwati’s remark, many Malaysians are also on her side. After all, there was even an online campaign, #SwedenLetThemGo, demanding their release despite their guilty verdict.
Shalwati also has the support of the National Union of the Teaching Profession Malaysia (NUTP) president Hashim Adnan, who told Malay Mail Online it would be unfair to judge Shalwati as though she “bludgeoned someone to death.” Perhaps then, as long as nobody died, it is all fine and dandy?
“She was in a wrong place, at a wrong time and this could have happened to anyone of us,” he said, probably to the nodding of many other parents nationwide.
In addition, some media and especially state agency Bernama, were positively jubilant about their return, focusing on the fact that Azizul got to celebrate Aidilfitri, and Shalwati Aidiladha, with their family.
Amidst all this, let us not lose sight of the real issue here. The real victims in this case were not the two parents, but their children.
Not only were the children hurt physically, but they were also hurt emotionally when their parents were jailed. Worse still, some media chose to portray the kids as the reason that the two were imprisoned. You can imagine how that would leave a scar on the kids’ psyche.
It was never the kids’ fault.
All the suffering the kids went through, none of it would have happened if the two did not resort to abuse. Worse still, they had committed it, even when they knew that they would be punished if they were caught, and consequently have to leave their children in the custody of others.
We must not let our citizens overseas take solace in knowing that they have the seemingly unconditional full backing of Putrajaya, and with it, impunity.
This situation is echoed in the case of Second Warrant Officer Muhammad Rizalman Ismail, the junior envoy who faces charges of sexual assault and break-in in New Zealand.
Rizalman had not only succeeded in leaving New Zealand to escape the charges, but months have gone by without any clear sign that he would be returned to face the Kiwi court.
In addition to that, the New Zealand government has released damning documents alleging Malaysia of asking NZ to drop the charges against Rizalman by claiming diplomatic immunity.
All the excuses of psychiatric tests cannot mask the perception of the public: that Putrajaya is siding with a probable sex offender and trying its best to protect him from facing the court and be punished.
Why do we think that we should be held to a different standard when it comes to our own citizens committing crimes in other countries?
What does it say about us when some can escape scot-free back home and seek solace because the public avert their gaze from their offences, and pretend it is just a “cultural clash”?
The debate on what should be a crime in Malaysia and what should not will continue, but a solution here is obvious.
Malaysia cannot see itself as an isolated case in the international arena, and can no longer ignore the universal human rights treaties that have been agreed upon in the United Nations. We need to ratify those which we have not, and follow up on those which we have.
Malaysia might be unique, but it is far from special. Malaysia cannot see itself as being above all the others.