TIME Malaysia

‘Topless Tourist’ Back in Britain After Brief Jail Stint in Malaysia

Danielle Petersen, Eleanor Hawkins
Mohd Asraffirdauz Bin Abdullah—AP Canadian Danielle Petersen, 22, center right, and Eleanor Hawkins, 24, left, of Britain are escorted by police as they leave court in Kota Kinabalu, in eastern Sabah state on Borneo island, Malaysia, June 12, 2015.

Eleanor Hawkins apologized for her actions atop a sacred mountain

(LONDON) — Eleanor Hawkins has returned to England and apologized to the people of Malaysia for having posed topless on a sacred mountain.

The student, who served a three-day jail term in Malaysia’s Sabah state before being set free, says she knows her actions had been wrong.

She said Sunday that “I know my behavior was foolish and I know how much offense we all caused to the local people of Sabah. For that, I am truly sorry.”

Hawkins was one of four foreigners charged in Malaysia after removing their clothes and posing for a photograph on Mount Kinabalu.

The 23-year-old seemed near tears as she read a statement outside her family’s home in Draycott, 120 miles (195 kilometers) north of London. She says she’s relieved to be home.

TIME Malaysia

Malaysia Jails, Fines Tourists for ‘Indecent’ Mountain Photo

MALAYSIA-QUAKE-BRITAIN-CANADA-NETHERLANDS-COURT
STR—AFP/Getty Images British student Eleanor Hawkins (R), 24, and Canadian Lindsey Petersen (L), 23, arrive at a court in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia's Sabah state on June 12, 2015.

Tourists will be released from jail upon paying a $1,330 fine

Four tourists were sentenced to three days in jail and ordered to pay 5,000 Malaysian ringgit ($1,333) for stripping off their clothes atop a mountain in northern Malaysia and taking photographs that incensed local residents, who consider the peak a sacred dwelling ground for deceased ancestors.

The presiding judge for Kota Kinabalu Magistrates’ Court said that the tourists had shown sufficient remorse for their actions and would be deported upon payment of the fines, since they have already spent three days in jail, the BBC reports. One local paper reported that residents linked the tourists’ behavior to a 5.9 magnitude earthquake that struck the region on June 5, killing 18 people.

Timothy Hawkins, father to one of the prisoners, expressed regret on behalf of his daughter to the BBC. “Eleanor knows what she did was wrong and disrespectful and she is deeply sorry for any offense she has caused to the Malaysian people,” he said.

TIME Malaysia

Tourists Who Posed Naked on Malaysian Mountain Freed After Pleading Guilty to Obscene Acts

Naked Tourists Malaysia Earthquake
AFP/Getty Images Dutch national Dylan Snel (centre R), 23, and Canadian national Danielle Petersen (centre L), 22, arrive at a court in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia on June 12, 2015.

Their behavior could have triggered an earthquake by angering the sacred moutain, some officials suggested

A group of tourists who posed naked on a Malaysian mountain and were accused of causing an earthquake by disrespecting the sancity of the area were jailed on Friday for three days.

Danielle and Lindsey Paterson from Canada, Eleanor Hawkins from the U.K. and Dutch national Dylan Snel were also each fined $1330 when they appeared in court in Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Sabah state.

The jail sentence was to run from the day of their arrest on June 9 and the four were released after they were sentenced.

They pleaded guilty earlier Friday to committing obscene acts on May 30. The four defendants, who were a part of a larger group, challenged each other to strip naked in the near freezing temperature on the mountain top.

The defendants’ lawyer Ronny Cham said that the tourists did not know local customs and appealed to the judge to not make an example of them. “Their act had brought shame and ridicule upon themselves and their respective countries,” he said.

Last Friday’s earthquake killed 18 people and left hundreds stranded on the mountain.

TIME Aviation

Malaysia Airlines Jet Makes Emergency Landing in Melbourne After Reports of Engine Fire

Passengers have disembarked and no injuries have been reported

A Malaysia Airlines plane made an emergency landing in Melbourne on Friday afternoon after reports of an engine fire, the Australian city’s Metropolitan Fire Brigade says.

The Australian Broadcasting Corp. (ABC) reported that 300 passengers were on board Flight MH 148 bound for Kuala Lumpur and that the plane first dumped its fuel, then made an emergency landing at Melbourne Airport around 3:00pm.

The BBC noted that route-tracking websites showed the plane circling the airport multiple times.

Melbourne Airport said via Twitter the plane landed safely, although it could not confirm the reason for MH 148’s grounding. After it landed, the plane was towed to a gate and passengers were allowed to disembark. Paramedics at the scene have not yet had to treat anyone.

[ABC]

TIME Malaysia

Local Tribes Hope to Appease Spirits After Tourists Strip Naked on Malaysia’s Sacred Peak

Malaysia Earthquake
AP—AP Tourists walk away from Mount Kinabalu hours after a magnitude 5.9 earthquake shook the area in Kundasang, Sabah, Malaysia, June 5, 2015.

Four tourists have been charged and could face jail time

Did a group of foreigners who took their clothes off at the summit of Malaysia’s Mount Kinabalu cause an earthquake? It’s up to the spirits to decide, according to the Lotud tribe of Sabah state.

The Malay Mail reports that some of the area’s indigenous tribes believe the spirits of their ancestors inhabit Mount Kinabalu. They are worried that the June 5 magnitude-6.0 quake that killed 18 is the result of the spirits’ anger at the tourists’ nudity.

The paper reports that the tribe will carry out a religious ceremony to speak with spirits, on Saturday in Sabah’s Tuaran district.

The tribes will see if a sogit, or placatory offering, is necessary, says the Mail.

The Malaysian courts have already charged some of the nudist tourists, according to Malaysian newspaper the Star. Two Canadians, a Briton and a Dutchman have been remanded by a magistrate’s court in Sabah and may have to serve three months in jail if found guilty of obscenity and public nudity.

At least one of the tourists is unrepentant. Hong Kong resident Emil Kaminski, who claims he was one of the tourists who exposed himself on the mountain, has publicly panned them.

“Some deranged p—k has linked earthquakes and mountaintop nudity,” Kaminski posted on Facebook. “Well, apparently I am responsible for the 2015 Nepal quake, and whatever incoming quakes in Canada.”

He also posted a rambling video on YouTube justifying his actions. (Contains expletives.)

TIME Malaysia

Tourists Detained in Malaysia After Nude Photos Were Said To Cause Quake

Malaysia Earthquake mount kinabalu
AP Mount Kinabalu is photographed hours after a magnitude 5.9 earthquake shook the area in Kundasang, Sabah, Malaysia, June 5, 2015.

Six more nude tourists remain at large

Malaysian authorities have detained four tourists for taking nude photos on the country’s Mount Kinabalu a few days before the country was rocked by a devastating earthquake that killed at least 16, Agence France-Presse reported. Some local leaders have blamed the earthquake on the tourists’ public display of nudity.

The detained tourists — two from Canada, one from the U.K. and one from the Netherlands — had broken away from their tour group on May 30 to take the risqué snaps despite the mountain being considered sacred by certain local groups. The photos went viral after the earthquake on June 5, with some blaming the disaster on the display of public indecency. Authorities are still looking for six other tourists who joined in the photos.

“We detained all four of them on Tuesday… and yes we are still searching for the other six tourists, and we will catch them,” said Sabah police commissioner Jalaluddin Abdul Rahman, according to AFP.

Read next: Miley Cyrus and Pet Pig ‘Bubba Sue’ Pose Nude for Cover of Paper Magazine

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Malaysia

Malaysian Tribes Blame Earthquake on Nude Tourist Photo

This undated photo shows Mount Kinabalu, South Eas
AFP/Getty Images This undated photo shows Mount Kinabalu, South East Asia's highest peak, in East Malaysia's state of Sabah.

The Westerners took the pictures on a sacred mountain

Malaysian tribal leaders are blaming a deadly earthquake on Western tourists who took naked photos of themselves on the sacred Mount Kinabalu.

The state’s tourism, culture and environment minister Masidi Manjun said locals want 10 tourists who allegedly snapped naked pictures on the mountain arrested, NBC reports. One week after the photos were posted to social media, a 6.0-magnitude earthquake took the lives of 16 people and trapped 100 more on the mountain.

The pictures were interpreted as a sign of disrespect by a group of natives who operate under their own laws separate from the Western-style legal system originally implemented by British colonists in Malaysia.

“The belief among the natives is that the souls of the departed will rest on the mountain before the day of judgment,” Manjun said. “They practice rituals to honor the mountain.”

[NBC]

TIME portfolio

The Plight of the Rohingya by James Nachtwey

More Rohingya are embarking on perilous journeys to Thailand and Malaysia

For decades, TIME contract photographer James Nachtwey has used his camera to give form to the invisible. Yet in a world filled with persecuted people hidden in isolated corners of the globe, the Rohingya stand out. A Muslim minority from western Burma, the 1.3 million-strong Rohingya have been denied the most basic of human rights: citizenship. Their sense of self has been lost.

Since sectarian tensions erupted in 2012, roughly 140,000 Rohingya have been herded into camps by the Burmese government, which has allowed a virulent Buddhist nationalist movement to germinate. Last year, Nachtwey spent time in these Rohingya ghettos, where conditions were among the worst he had witnessed — and this from a photographer who has worked in refugee camps in Africa and the Middle East.

With limitations on their lives increasing with each month — in May, Burmese President Thein Sein signed a population-control law that could be used to restrict the number of children Rohingya bear — Rohingya have been boarding rickety boats in hopes of eventually landing in Malaysia, a Muslim-majority nation where they take menial jobs. Over the last year or so, around 90,000 Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants, who also hope for better economic prospects, have embarked on perilous journeys that take them across the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea to the jungles of Thailand and Malaysia. Often, the price agreed upon for the feat of human-smuggling rises once the migrants stumble into the jungle encampments. Unless family members pay up, the Rohingya and Bangladeshis face possible starvation, disease and even execution by the traffickers.

With Thailand and Malaysia finally cracking down on the trade, the human-smuggling trawlers — slave ships, really — have turned into floating prisons, as the normal trade routes are disrupted and captains abandon their boats. Thousands may still be stuck at sea. Meanwhile, on land, authorities have found more than 150 graves of suspected migrants, near abandoned jungle camps. Police and government officials have been detained for their part in the trafficking trade.

In May, Nachtwey traveled to three countries — Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia — to document the plight of Asia’s newest boat people. In Malaysia, he trekked through jungle to observe bodies being pulled out of the earth, near encampments with bamboo cages used to confine migrants. At a temporary refugee camp in Indonesia’s Aceh province, he captured an equally affecting scene: Rohingya who had spent more than three months at sea, starving and forced to drink their own urine, patiently lined up just a day after they had come ashore. One by one, they stood in front of an Indonesian photographer, who documented their names, ages and addresses — Burma was listed as their country of origin — on a whiteboard. Long unable to claim any real identity, the Rohingya were finally being given a chance at self-expression. As always, Nachtwey was there to bear witness.

Hannah Beech is TIME’s East Asia Bureau Chief and traveled with Nachtwey to report on the plight of the Rohingya.

James Nachtwey is a TIME contract photographer, documenting wars, conflicts and critical social issues.

TIME Aviation

Malaysia Airlines Begins a Huge Makeover, but First Lays Off a Third of Its Workforce

A man views a fleet of Malaysia Airline planes on the tarmac of the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, in Malaysia, Thursday, Jan. 29, 2015.
Joshua Paul—AP A man views a fleet of Malaysia Airline planes on the tarmac of the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, in Malaysia, Thursday, Jan. 29, 2015.

Airline bets on total transformation to help it overcome the legacy of 2014's two air disasters

Malaysia Airlines (MAS) reassured customers Monday that operations would continue as normal as the airline is restructured into a new company and undergoes an overhaul of its brand.

“You can continue to make reservations in full confidence that our flights and schedules are operating as normal, that tickets sold will be honored,” recently appointed CEO Christoph Mueller said in a statement.

The beleaguered airline has struggled to repair its image after two high-profile air disasters last year — the disappearance of MH370 in March and the shooting down of MH17 over Ukraine in July. (Malaysian aviation took a further battering in December, when AirAsia Flight 8501, operated by the Indonesian affiliate of Malaysian low-cost carrier AirAsia, crashed into the Java Sea, killing all 162 on board.)

MAS’ overhaul includes laying off between 6,000 to 8,000 employees — about one-third of its 20,000 workforce — and hiring a senior administrator to oversee the transfer of assets and liabilities into the new company, Malaysia Airlines Berhad, by September.

“All employees will get the termination letters and either a letter to join the new company, or to register … [for] outplacement,” a company spokesperson told CNN.

Last year, Malaysia Airlines was pulled from the stock exchange and taken over by the Malaysian government’s strategic investment fund Khazanah Nasional, which came up with a $1.66 billion restructuring plan.

CEO Mueller, who was hired from Irish carrier Aer Lingus, took the top job on May 1 and told Reuters the new company would be like a “startup.”

“It’s not a continuation of the old company in a new disguise, everything is new,” he said.

But Malaysia Airlines was incurring losses prior to 2014 and had costs 20% higher than other rival airlines. Add not one but two disasters within four months of each other, with a still missing plane, and the restructure may not be enough to repair the damage to its brand and Malaysian aviation in general.

“Those two losses have compounded an already difficult and uneconomic situation,” Jason Middleton, head of the School of Aviation at the University of New South Wales, Australia, tells TIME. He adds that while Malaysia Airlines can argue that the loss of MH17 was not its fault, poor communication from the airline and the government have probably tarnished its reputation regardless.

“Cheap seats and a convenient schedule will still bring passengers to use [Malaysia Airlines],” Middleton says. He adds that selling off old aircraft and trimming down the route network “will help their bottom line, but perhaps not sufficiently that they will stop the losses.”

One of the biggest challenges the airline faces is recovering the public’s confidence. “Air disasters can play a big part in the economic impact of the airline but also the psyche of the traveling public,” Michael Daniel, an international aviation-safety consultant, tells TIME.

Daniel suggests that the airline keep an eye on the emergence of the ASEAN single aviation market, which is expected to liberalize air travel between member states. In the meantime, MAS will simply have to be patient.

“I suspect that the many of the public will take a while to forget, and that there is little they can do except wait and hope that there is not another accident,” says Middleton.

TIME Malaysia

Rohingya Survivors Speak of Their Ordeals as 139 Suspected Graves Are Found in Malaysia

Human remains being disinterred from an informal cemetery near an abandoned camp allegedly for trafficked Rohingya and Bangladeshis in mountainous jungle on the Malaysian side of the Thai-Malaysian border.
James Nachtwey for TIME Human remains being disinterred from an informal cemetery near an abandoned camp allegedly for trafficked Rohingya and Bangladeshis in mountainous jungle on the Malaysian side of the Thai-Malaysian border.

Burma's persecuted Muslim minority takes unspeakable risks into order to flee to Malaysia

Less than a kilometer from Malaysia’s border with Thailand, the trappings of death are littered across the jungle: a stretcher made of branches to carry bodies, reams of white cloth used to wrap the deceased in Muslim tradition and, most menacing of all, empty boxes for 9-mm bullets.

On May 25, Malaysia’s Inspector General of Police, Khalid Abu Bakar, confirmed that there were at least 139 suspected graves strewn across the Perlis range of hills that rise from Malaysia into Thailand, in the vicinity of nearly 30 abandoned camps. How many bodies each possible grave contains is not yet clear, nor is it known how the people may have died. But these remains are believed to be a grim by-product of the human-smuggling trade that for years has transported persecuted Rohingya Muslims from Burma, as well as, increasingly, Bangladeshis desperate to escape poverty back home.

For years, desperate individuals have boarded rickety boats to cross the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea, then trekked through Thailand’s southern jungles to their ultimate destination: Malaysia. But with the smuggling routes through Thailand into Malaysia disrupted by police investigations, thousands of Rohingya and Bangladeshis are thought by the U.N. to be stuck at sea, as traffickers figure out how to salvage their human cargo and captains abandon the boats for fear of the official crackdown.

Around 3,500 Rohingya and Bangladeshis have managed to land in Malaysia and Indonesia in recent weeks, after months at sea. With Southeast Asian governments at first unwilling to take them in, the boats — their holds packed with hundreds of people, like modern-day slave ships — floated between different national waters in what the U.N. described as “human ping pong.” Only last week did the governments of Indonesia and Malaysia officially agree to offer shelter.

For now, the suspected graves in northern Malaysia’s Perlis state are marked with lone branches, the earth covered by a scattering of oversized rainforest leaves. On Tuesday, forensic teams — including one that recently returned from Ukraine, the site of the downed Malaysia Airlines jet — began sifting through the soil to recover bodies. It is a process that forensic analysts gathered at a makeshift police encampment in Wang Kelian, a few kilometers from the hill-top burial grounds, say will take weeks, if not months.

Only one body was discovered above ground. It was found in a wooden holding pen, the lower part wrapped in the sarong that is commonly worn in Burma and parts of Bangladesh. So badly decomposed was the body that forensic investigators removed it from the site in five separate bags.

An abandoned camp allegedly for trafficked Rohingya and Bangladeshis in mountainous jungle on the Malaysian side of the Thai-Malaysian border.
James Nachtwey for TIMEAn abandoned camp allegedly for trafficked Rohingya and Bangladeshis in mountainous jungle on the Malaysian side of the Thai-Malaysian border.

Malaysia’s suspected burial ground is not the first to be discovered along the porous border with Thailand. Earlier this month, 33 bodies were unearthed in Thailand, less than 500 m from some of the Malaysian suspected graves on the opposite side. Initial police reports indicated that the cause of death for most of the bodies found in Thailand was either starvation or disease. Often, according to TIME interviews with more than 20 Rohingya who have taken the same trafficking route through Thailand into Malaysia, the agreed-upon price for the journey is jettisoned once the victims reach the jungle camps on the border. There, they are essentially held to ransom until family members either back home or in Malaysia pay much higher sums. Food is scarce and beatings common, say survivors.

Shanu binti Abdul Hussain says she, her three small children and her brother-in-law were imprisoned in a camp of the Thai side of the border for 26 days in December before her husband, who was already working in Malaysia’s Penang state, was able to meet a $4,150 ransom. (The family originally was told the voyage would cost one-third the price.) Her husband, Mohamed Rafiq, was given a Malaysian bank account number and sent the money through a cash-deposit machine in Penang. “Waiting after I sent the money was the hardest part,” he says. “I thought, what if the money was too late? What if one of my children has died?”

Since beginning their operation on May 11, Malaysian police have found a network of 28 camps deep in the Perlis jungle, one of which North Brigade police officer Mohd. Salen bin Mohd. Hussain estimates was abandoned just one week before it was discovered. Police believe one camp held 300 people, while others are far smaller. Crude holding pens girded by saplings hint at forced confinement, as does a coil of metal chains. Sentry tree houses poke through the foliage. “I am not surprised by the presence of smuggling syndicates,” Malaysian national police chief Khalid tells TIME. “But the depth of the cruelty, the torture, all this death, that has shocked me.”

This year, Malaysian police say they have arrested 37 people in connection with human smuggling, including two policemen from the state of Penang. In 2014, 66 people were charged in connection with the trade. But for human traffickers to have operated in border areas with such impunity for so many years — no matter how thick the foliage may be — it’s hard to imagine a complete lack of official complicity. Earlier this month, the mayor and deputy mayor of the Thai border town Padang Besar were arrested. Other local officials in Thailand have been detained.

Yet the trade has been going on for years, with the number of Rohingya fleeing Burma (officially known as Myanmar) escalating after Buddhist-Muslim tensions in Rakhine (or Arakan) state exploded in 2012, with the stateless Rohingya bearing the brunt of the violence. Hundreds of this Muslim minority are believed to have died, and around 140,000 have been herded into camps, where disease stalks a vulnerable population. Bereft of their homes and land, many Rohingya see opportunity in Malaysia, a Muslim-majority nation, no matter how hard the journey. Others allege they were kidnapped onto trafficking boats, as the smugglers struggle to find enough people to fill their holds. The traffickers are also targeting Bangladeshis from across the border with Burma; they, unlike the Rohingya, have little hope of ever gaining refugee status in Southeast Asia.

So far, Malaysian police have been combing a 50-km stretch of the Perlis jungle. What else will be found in the coming days? Locals speak of ghosts up in the hills by the Thai border. “I thought I would die,” says Dilarah, a Rohingya, of her 38-day journey from western Burma, through the camps on the Thai-Malaysian border. She is 6 years old.

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