Tahfiz fire tragedy: High Court sentences teenager to imprisonment for the murder of 23 people

Deputy public prosecutor Julia Ibrahim speaks to reporters on August 17, 2020 outside the courtroom after a teenager was sentenced to imprisonment over the death of 23 people in a fire at Pusat Tahfiz Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Deputy public prosecutor Julia Ibrahim speaks to reporters on August 17, 2020 outside the courtroom after a teenager was sentenced to imprisonment over the death of 23 people in a fire at Pusat Tahfiz Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah. — Picture by Hari Anggara

KUALA LUMPUR, August 17 — A teenager has been sentenced to imprisonment by the High Court here today for causing the death of 23 people in a fire at a tahfiz centre almost three years ago.

In delivering the High Court’s decision, High Court judge Datuk Azman Abdullah said the defence had failed to raise reasonable doubt in its case throughout the trial.

“After considering the statements of witnesses in court, the court finds that the offender had with intention committed murder.

“I therefore find the offender guilty the offences and convict the offender on all the charges,” Azman said.

The juvenile was accused of murdering and causing the death of the 23 residents at the Pusat Tahfiz Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah tahfiz centre at Jalan Keramat Hujung, Kampung Datuk Keramat, Wangsa Maju between 4.15am and 6.45am on September 14, 2017.

The High Court had ordered the juvenile — who was 16 when the alleged offence was committed — to enter his defence on the charge after finding that the prosecution had succeeded in establishing a prima facie case against him on January 28.

The accused was previously charged with 23 counts of murder each, framed under Section 302 of the Penal Code, read together with Section 34 of the same law, which provides the mandatory death sentence upon conviction.

However, Section 97(1) of the Child Act states that a death sentence shall not be pronounced or recorded against a person convicted of an offence if the child is under the age of 18, and in lieu of the death sentence, as provided under Section 97 (2) of the same law, the court shall order the person to be detained at the pleasure of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.

Azman said since the teenager was still a juvenile when the offence was committed, he had applied Section 97(1) of the Child Act in meting out the sentence.

“It is up to the pleasure of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to determine the terms and conditions of the teenager’s detention from time to time,” he added.

Lawyer to the teenager Mohd Haijan Omar (centre) leaves courtroom on August 17, 2020 after the teen was sentenced to imprisonment over the death of 23 people in a fire at Pusat Tahfiz Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Lawyer to the teenager Mohd Haijan Omar (centre) leaves courtroom on August 17, 2020 after the teen was sentenced to imprisonment over the death of 23 people in a fire at Pusat Tahfiz Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah. — Picture by Hari Anggara

The prosecution was conducted by deputy public prosecutor Julia Ibrahim, while lawyer Haijan Omar represented the juvenile.

In a brief mitigation, Haijan said his client would like to express his most sincere apologies to those who felt wronged over the incident, but vehemently maintained his innocence over the act.

He also said the defence would appeal against the sentence.

The court had previously acquitted and discharged another person, also of the same age, who was charged with the juvenile offender without calling for his defence.

The two of them were initially jointly charged with the murder offence, but the charge was later amended following the decision at the end of the prosecution’s case.

Media crowd outside religious school Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah after a fire broke out in Kuala Lumpur September 14, 2017. — Reuters pic
Media crowd outside religious school Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah after a fire broke out in Kuala Lumpur September 14, 2017. — Reuters pic

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