#MakeSchoolASaferPlace — a movement that exposed the shortcomings of our education system that has countlessly failed to protect students from harm. In fact, when it comes to youths, the older generation i.e. teachers and authorities, would rather intimidate vocal and brave youth activists than to solve the issue at hand. This movement, which started off as a hashtag, gave birth to various avenues for the youth, primarily students to voice out their dissatisfaction to their respective schools in regards to protecting vulnerable students. Over the decades, schools and teachers have normalised rape culture and protected their fellow colleagues who were alleged perpetrators. The toxic culture of not speaking up against authorities have indeed been deeply ingrained into the current education system.
An Instagram page, @savetheschoolsmy, provided a safe space for former and current victims of sexual harassment, abuse experience and rape culture in schools to speak up. To date, they’ve received 505 accounts of students who were victims of these heinous acts throughout their schooling days. The worst part? Justice has yet to be served to the victims!
Prior to this, many students have stated their experience dealing with period spot checks in schools. This resulted in huge public uproar as having period spot checks, would leave students traumatised in the future. Subsequently, teachers have denied these allegations and even the Education Minister, Datuk Seri Radzi Jidin stated that there was no indication that such practices existed. Day by day, the youth of today are being stripped off their rights to voice out. It seems to be an endless cycle of intimidating youth activists.
Shocked to receive a defamation suit
Now, teen activist, Ain Husniza Saiful Nizam, has been hit with a RM1 million defamation suit by her ex-PJK teacher. This 17-year-old teenager’s cause of Making School A Safer Place made it’s rounds on social media, for all the right reasons when her TikTok video detailing inappropriate rape jokes made by her PJK teacher went viral.
Her latest tweet reads, “Hi. I received a letter of demand for ‘defamatory statements’ all of a sudden. In this letter, it’s stated that I have 7 days to respond to all the demands and this includes, settling RM1,000,000 in damages.” Adding on, she stated, “I’m sorry for not being active on social media. My emotions are not stable. I received this letter in the middle of my online class.”
In addition to this, her father, Saiful Nizam posted on his Twitter page that the letter of demand was from the law firm of Rasshidi Ema & Yung. Per the advice of their lawyer, the family would not give any comments as of now and they’re awaiting the advice from the lawyer about their rights and the necessary actions to be taken. Speaking to the Malay Mail, Saiful said that he was puzzled by the teacher’s actions as they have not mentioned the teacher’s name or the school’s thus far.
Let’s have a look at the brief overview of this case!
Ain’s TikTok video which became viral addressed the male teacher’s comments as the topic of sexual harassment was being discussed. The class has been talking about laws that protect minors from sexual abuse and harassment and the teacher stated, “If you want to rape someone, make sure they are above 18.”
According to Ain, the girls were quiet but the boys were laughing like it was funny to joke about raping someone. Following this, the education ministry stated that the teacher had been transferred to the state education department. Ain was also bullied and harassed by her classmates and schoolmates who claimed that she was tarnishing the school’s name. She even received a rape threat from a male classmate! Her father reported it to the police and the student apologised for making the threat.
Not only that, Ain was also described as a “child of the devil wearing a headscarf” on the Facebook page belonging to her high school principal. Shockingly, the principal alleged that her Facebook account was hacked and she lodged a police report. This, dear readers, is the origin of the normalisation of rape culture! Schools play a heavy role in moulding the thought process of students, especially teenagers and if a teacher could make rape jokes in class, imagine the students in the future — harassing women and moral policing them too!
What can Ain do now?
Referring back to the defamatory suit, Hype Malaysia spoke to lawyer and activist, Azira Aziz to obtain a deeper insight into this case. When speaking about the appropriate response that Ain should give towards the defamation suit she said, “Ain should engage the legal services of a lawyer. It is heartwarming that many did volunteer to assist her pro bono to reply to the Letter of Demand. A good lawyer should be able to reply with sufficient legalese to avoid further escalation of the matter.”
The legal firm has indeed gained some flak for representing the perpetrator too. With many people having differing opinions towards the legal firm’s stance in this case, Azira stated that, “I am of the opinion that the alleged perpetrators deserve their day in Court to hear their side of the story and should be represented by a competent lawyer (in criminal cases). There are always two sides of a story. A lawyer engaged by a Client is only privy to one side of the story. Our job is to represent the best interests of the Client, not be the Client. That said, if the lawyer decides that he/she cannot competently act in the best interest of the Client, he/she should decline the work. If he/she can do the work, then he/she should not be prejudged or criticised for taking on the Client. Even in civil law, the right to be heard in Court to resolve a dispute otherwise unresolvable elsewhere is the right of all Malaysian citizens in a democracy. I believe that self care is important for a professional in any industry. If the type of work would adversely impact the mental and emotional health or wellbeing of the lawyer, he/she would be unable to provide competent services to the Client. Therefore he/she should not take the work. This is not necessarily an option for junior lawyers in the profession though.”
Based on Azira’ article on defamation which could be read here, if one is charged with defamation, he or she could issue an apology if they’re wrong, refer back to the Court Mediation process or continue fighting under the Defences of justification (prove that something said is based on truth), absolute privilege (applies to public documents readily available such as Court Judgments, Hansard, Police Reports, and Statements under Section 112 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which is basically your testimony to police while under remand/being investigated), qualified privilege (a person with an interest or a duty, legal, social, or moral, to publish the words to the persons it was published to; and the recipient of the words had an interest or duty to receive them), Reynold’s Privilege (applies to newspapers, where the defendant has to prove public interest and that the readership has an interest in receiving the said printed words) or Fair Comment (commentary on factors proven as truth, fair, and is a matter of public interest).
Nevertheless, intimidation of youth activists such as Ain Husniza should be stopped at all costs. Speaking up against the atrocities one faces should be normalised to ensure a safe space could be created for everyone!