Australia's 'Budgie 9' Escape Further Punishment in Malaysia

Australia's 'Budgie 9' Escape Further Punishment in Malaysia
REUTERS/Lai Seng Sin

What you need to know

A Malaysian court has discharged Australia's 'Budgie 9' with a caution.

The Sepang Sessions Court has discharged the nine Australian men who stripped to their swimwear emblazoned with the Jalur Gemilang at the Formula One Grand Prix in Sepang over the weekend.

Though Judge Harith Sham Mohamed Yasin said their conduct was "totally inappropriate" and had “provoked the sensitivity of Malaysians”, he however took into account their young age.

Judge Harith also took into consideration how the nine, aged between 25 and 29, were remanded for four days, had lacked awareness that their action was insensitive and that they were remorseful.

“I hereby exercise my power in accordance with Section 173A of the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) to caution and discharge all of you from the charge,” he told the court.

The nine earlier pleaded guilty under Section 290 of the Penal Code for public nuisance which carries a fine not exceeding RM400 (US$95).

Lawyer Mohd Shafee Abdullah, representing the men, earlier said although it was not a condition in today’s proceedings, his clients had offered to apologize to the people of Malaysia for their “folly and ignorance pertaining to the culture here”.

“They felt terrible for causing the embarrassment,” Shafee said.

Reading out the two-page apology on behalf of the other men, 28-year-old Tom Whitworth said they “sincerely apologize” for their actions which had offended the sentiments of the people here.

“We are remorseful of our actions on that day. We had no idea that our conduct would be deemed to be inappropriate, crass or even downright offensive to the citizens of this country.

“Please know that we do not have the slightest of intention to undermine or degrade the dignity of the Jalur Gemilang, this country or her people.”

Whitworth explained that their actions were purely an oversight which had stemmed from their lack of knowledge of cultural and national sensitivities of Malaysians.

They only came to the realization, after their arrest, of Malaysians’ respect towards the national flag and emblem.

“We too have similar fondness and respect to our own Australian national flag, but due to our cultural differences our display of respect and reverence of our national flag is perhaps quite different.

“But this is no excuse for us not to understand our own neighbours’ sensitivities on certain subjects, such as the present one.

“We therefore, without reservation, apologize and express our deepest regret over our conduct of the afternoon of Oct 2, 2016,” he said.

Whitworth faints during proceedings

There was also a minor commotion when Whitworth fainted some 20 minutes after reading the letter of apology.

All nine were standing and handcuffed in pairs during the one-hour proceedings. Whitworth was then given a bottle of water to drink from.

Shafee told the court that minor cases normally do not see the accused handcuffed.

“They have not drank anything since morning. And it’s dangerous to fall with handcuffs on," he said.

After Whitworth was attended to, the other men also had their handcuffs removed.

Earlier during mitigation, Shafee claimed there were some discrimination made against his clients.

“If Yang Arif were to walk at the F1 paddock, you can see how the fairer sex are less dressed than my clients. I thought that was a lot more outrageous.”

He also pointed out how his clients were wearing swimwear as opposed to underwear.

In stressing his point, Shafee said that most of his clients were part-time lifesavers.

“They do part-time life saving on the beach, something quite common in Australia.

“Stripping down to swimming trunks comes almost second nature to them, without even batting an eyelid or thinking about it,” he said.

Shafee also argued how most countries allow wearing of national emblem or flags on swimwear.

“In fact it is something encouraged, looked upon as a friendly act of patriotism.

“For example on Australia Day, which is celebrated annually, it is very common to see individuals dressing up either in bikinis or swimming trunks with emblems of the Australian flag walking down the street,” he said.

Shafee then pointed out how the swimming trunks which were worn by his clients could be bought online and that there were versions of other countries as well, and not just of the Malaysian flag.

“Since there were other designs, it is something consistent with thinking that there was nothing wrong to celebrate in Malaysian flag swimming trunks in Malaysia.”

His clients, too, apart from being “very young”, were of good upbringing and come from the most respectable families, said Shafee.

Twenty-six-year-old Jack Walker is an adviser to Australia's Minister for Defence Industry, Dr Adam Pasfield is a medical doctor and an associate professor at the University of New South Wales, while Branden Stobbs is a strategist account manager and a professional ice hockey player.

Others arrested were Whitworth, the chief executive officer of a finance company and Edward Leaney, Tom Laslett, Tom Yates, James Paver and Nick Kelly.

The News Lens has been authorized to repost this article. The piece was first published on Malaysiakini.

Edited by: Edward White