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KUALA LUMPUR, July 9 — Three former members of Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF) spoke about the sexual harassment they allegedly faced from one of the think tank’s directors, following a call by women’s rights groups for an independent investigation into these allegations.
Speaking separately to Malay Mail, the trio related how the perpetrator touched them inappropriately on several occasions.
This included stroking their arms, legs, and hugging them around their waists, and one instance of sexual assault involving attempted kissing and groping.
In the case which resulted in a police report, the accuser said the alleged perpetrator acted inappropriately towards him during a one-on-one meeting unrelated to IRF in November 2019 when he was then a new recruit.
In a phone interview with Malay Mail, he said the meeting was related to his becoming a research assistant while he was waiting for his housemanship.
He pointed out that he was just a fresh medical graduate then while the alleged perpetrator was already in a senior position.
“If I cannot get justice for my case, I can prevent the person from going further,” he added.
Malay Mail sighted a copy of the police report dated February 2020 via the accuser’s legal team.
He explained that fear and trauma were the reasons behind the delay in lodging a report.
Yesterday, news portal Malaysiakini similarly quoted the accuser and confirmed the report with a police source who did not want to be named.
“The case is under investigation. We will forward our findings to the deputy public prosecutor for further instruction," the police source told Malaysiakini.
According to the accuser, the investigating officer is planning to take statements from witnesses as early as today, and from the alleged perpetrator some time this week.
One of the men who spoke to Malay Mail was employed as a personal aide to the accused director more than five years ago.
He too made similar claims of alleged harassment, which included the perpetrator touching him between his thighs and stroking his leg while being driven in car.
“Being young and naïve then, I thought the person was sincere about seeing me as a son. But when it happened many times, I decided to quit my job,” he told Malay Mail.
The second man who spoke up said he wanted to lodge a police report about the alleged sexual harassment, but claimed he was dissuaded from doing so by the police officer who pointed out the difficulty of proving such an accusation.
Another man who had been involved with IRF as an activist since 2011 said incidents of “excessive touching and groping” happened at IRF’s workshops, retreats and other programmes.
“In the beginning, I thought that was normal because it always happens,” he said in a text message to Malay Mail.
“But after hearing the experience of other activists, I feel this was inappropriate and should be labelled as sexual harassment.”
Malay Mail also spoke with four other activists involved with IRF over the past eight years, and three admitted hearing rumours and complaints of sexual impropriety during their time with the think tank, including two specific instances that cannot be verified yet.
No other police reports have been lodged against the alleged perpetrator.
Activists refused association with IRF
Formed in 2009, IRF describes itself as a movement to empower youth and promote Muslim intellectual discourse, and has advanced local discourse involving Islam and the enforcement of Shariah laws in Malaysia through its events, talks and commentaries.
The alleged perpetrator is also a prominent leader in Malaysian civil society and has declined to comment on the matter at this time pending legal advice.
A senior IRF staff has also been contacted for the group’s response, but has yet to issue any.
On Monday, three former research fellows and one collaborator of the think tank publicly dissociated themselves from the group as long as the alleged perpetrator remains, following years of complaints and allegations of sexual harassment that they said were insufficiently addressed by the organisation.
On the morning of July 7, Imran Rasid, a former IRF research fellow since 2015 posted a public post on his Facebook profile announcing the dissociation, saying he found out about the allegations late last year from various individuals, including one of his friends.
Imran said he had sought a response from the alleged perpetrator on February 20 about the allegation involving his friend, only to receive what he said was an “unsatisfactory, irresponsible, and unconvincing reply.”
Following Imran’s revelation, Hazman Baharom, another former IRF fellow who has written and translated for IRF since 2014, also posted on his Facebook that he wanted to disassociate himself from the think tank.
This was followed by Izzat Radzi, who is currently translating the book Reasoning with God: Reclaiming Shariah in the Modern Age by Kuwaiti professor Khaled Abou El Fadl into Malay for IRF; and another former IRF fellow Shuhaib Ar Rumy Ismail.
“We believe that as long as the person is in IRF, it will continue to be a platform for a dangerous trap. We are unwilling for IRF’s lofty efforts to be tarnished by the person’s personal acts that clearly do not portray the real ambition and goals of IRF,” Shuhaib wrote.
The four have not directly accused the director of sexual impropriety, but are merely distancing themselves following such allegations from their colleagues.
Calls for investigation and resignation
Yesterday, the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) urged lRF to initiate an independent investigation into sexual harassment allegations involving one of its senior directors.
The coalition of 14 women’s rights groups said appropriate steps must be taken to secure the confidentiality of the complainants and their protection against any intimidation.
“The alleged perpetrator should be suspended from all official duties until the completion of the investigation, which must be made transparent to complainants.
“We fully acknowledge that civil society and the human rights sector are not immune to sexual harassment,” JAG said.
No other civil society has yet issued any statement in response to the activists’ dissociation and JAG’s statement.
Malay Mail understands that the director resigned from the board in March, but has since indicated his intention to return to the board — subsequently prompting some members to come out publicly to dissociate themselves from IRF.
However, a check with the Companies Commission Malaysia showed that the alleged perpetrator is still listed as one of the five directors of IRF.
(Due to the Registrar of Societies’ purportedly restrictive bureaucracy, many civil societies in Malaysia are registered and operate as companies rather than non-profit organisations.)