Tourists jailed for posing naked on sacred mountain

Four tourists who posed naked on a sacred mountain in Malaysia have been given jail terms.

Briton Eleanor Hawkins, Canadians Lindsey and Danielle Peterson, and Dutchman Dylan Snel admitted causing a public disturbance.

The group, with six others, were blamed for a magnitude 5.9 earthquake after they stripped on Mount Kinabalu.

At Kota Kinabalu Magistrates’ Court the judge jailed the quartet for three days and fined them 5,000 Malaysian ringgit.

Miss Hawkins, from Derbyshire, and her co-accused, all admitted a charge of “committing an obscene act in public” which carries a possible jail term of three months, a fine or both.

Prosecutors said the four tourists, along with six others, climbed the peak to enjoy the sunrise on 30 May and then challenged each other to take off their clothes.

But the court amended the facts to agree the accused did not tell the guide to “shut up” or “go to hell” as the prosecution alleged.

Their lawyer said they had simply ignored pleas not to remove their clothes, and had not verbally abused the guide.

Ronny Cham, representing the four, said they were ignorant of local customs and “their act had brought shame and ridicule upon themselves and their respective countries”.

He asked the judge to not make an example of them, saying the intense international media coverage had traumatized them enough.

Mr Cham called for the group to be fined and deported rather than sent to jail.

The prosecution argued the public interest was central to the case and, according to Malaysian law, anyone committing an “obscene act” which causes annoyance in a public place should be jailed for up to 3 months.

Many Malaysians had been outraged by the group’s behaviour, he said, and the case was about “upholding the [country’s] morals and customs”.

The court remains in recess while the judge considers a sentence.

Earlier, the four arrived at court accompanied by officials wearing balaclavas.

The accused covered their faces as they entered the building, surrounded by a media scrum.

“There’s a lot of public anger still against the tourists because many of them believe Mount Kinabalu is a sacred spot where their souls go to rest when they die,” Ms Pak said.

“The fact that these foreigners are alleged to have stripped on the peak, urinated and cursed at staff members trying to stop them is something that many locals say is disrespectful.”

On Friday last week, an earthquake struck killing 18 people, including children, and leaving hundreds more stranded.

Sabah state deputy chief minister Joseph Pairin Kitingan blamed it on the travellers showing “disrespect to the sacred mountain”.

News agency AFP said police were still seeking five other suspects but some were thought to have already left Sabah.

Why is Kinabalu sacred?

READ ALSO:  Journalists not angry enough about attacks on them – Amaliba

•    Sabah’s Kadazan Dusun tribe believe the mountain houses the spirits of their dead ancestors
•    The name Kinabalu is derived from the tribe’s phrase “Aki Nabalu”, which means resting place of the dead
•    Climbers are told by guides, many of whom are Kadazan Dusun, to treat the mountain with respect and to refrain from shouting, screaming or cursing at it
•    Every December the tribe conducts a ritual called the Monolob to appease the spirits and allow climbers to continue visiting the mountain
•    A priestess, called a Bobolian, makes an offering of seven white chickens accompanied by seven chicken eggs, betel nuts, tobacco, limestone powder, and betel plant leaves. The Bobolian leads a chant and the chickens are then slaughtered, cooked, and given to the ceremony participants
•    In the past, this ceremony was conducted before every ascent, and climbers used the cooked meat as rations for their journey