'Finally!': Stalking is now a crime, whether it's done physically or online

Any individual found guilty of stalking faces a maximum jail sentence of up to three years, a fine, or both, upon conviction. Photo: Freepik

On March 29, the Dewan Rakyat passed amendments to the Penal Code making stalking – both physically and online – a crime. A new Section 507A has been included under the Penal Code (Act 574) to make stalking an offence and any individual found guilty faces a maximum jail sentence of up to three years, a fine, or both, conviction.

The passing of the amendments to the Penal Code and Criminal Procedure Code to make stalking a crime is a positive step towards improving Malaysia’s response to gender-based violence and for survivors to find relief and seek protection.

“Finally!” says Aina, 37, who was stalked for several years by an ex-boyfriend who refused to “let her go”.

“I hope that other survivors won’t have to go through what I did. I was looking over my shoulder, every minute of every day for two years of my life ... until I had to move away from my work, my family and friends just so that I could feel safe,” says the administrative executive who reveals that her ex used to show up at her home and workplace, and even harass her family and friends relentlessly.

“He would also stalk my friends’ social media accounts to try and find me.”

Tracking has been included as an offence under stalking in the new section, says Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Law and Institutional Reform) Ramkarpal Singh when tabling the amendments to the Penal Code at the Dewan Rakyat.

Tracking is now also an offence, says Ramkarpal. Photo: BernamaTracking is now also an offence, says Ramkarpal. Photo: Bernama

“Tracking means keeping track of a victim in a non-physical manner through any devices such as a hidden camera or GPS tracker,” says Ramkarpal.

Under the new Section 507A, whoever repeatedly by any act of harassment, intending to cause or knowing that it is likely to cause distress, fear or alarm to a person on his or her safety, commits the offence of stalking.

Also tabled were amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) to create a new Section 98A.

According to Ramkarpal, the new law will provide victims with protection against stalkers.

Currently, a protection order is only available to divorced couples but this new law will offer protection against stalkers, whether they are total strangers or known to the victim, such as relatives, former spouses or partners.

The protection order can be issued against an individual who is being investigated or is charged with stalking. Flouting the protection order means facing a jail term of up to one year, a fine, or both.

A positive step

Criminalising stalking potects all Malaysians, says Abinaya. Photo: WAOCriminalising stalking potects all Malaysians, says Abinaya. Photo: WAOThis is a positive first step in the right direction, says Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO).

“It has been passed at Dewan Rakyat. Once the amendments have been passed at Dewan Negara and royal assent is obtained, then people who experience stalking will be able to access safety and protection through the criminal justice system,” says WAO advocacy director Abinaya Mohan.

WAO defines stalking as “a repeated act of harassment which is intended or likely to cause distress, fear, or alarm to any person for their safety” and actions that constitute stalking comprise: “following or tracking a person in any manner or by any means, for example tracking using GPS devices; communicating or attempting to communicate with a person in any manner or by any means, including online harassment; loitering at the place of residence or business of a person; giving or sending anything to a person in any manner or by any means”.

One of the key provisions of the amendments is that violation of protection orders is a sizable offence. This means if a survivor lodges a police report, they may apply for protection orders which prevent escalating harassment and retaliation from the perpetrator. If the protection order is violated, the perpetrator can be arrested.

According statistics from WAO, one third of Malaysians have admitted to experiencing stalking, and 39% of women have experienced stalking in the past. Some of the cases have led to the death of the victim.

“Criminalising stalking protects all Malaysians – both men and women. The anti-stalking law is important as it provides an avenue of justice for the victims of stalking.

"It covers repeated acts of stalking, unwanted acts of tracking, loitering, and communicating with the intent to cause distress, fear or alarm. It will also finally allow PDRM to investigate cases of stalking and issue protection orders for victims,” highlights Abinaya.

Police can act

A 2020 survey conducted by WAO and Vase.ai “Understanding Malaysians’ Experience Of Stalking” found that 88% of survey respondents have experienced an act associated with stalking. Of those that lodged police reports, many wished the police were empowered to do more.

“The new amendments will enable the police to investigate stalking cases more effectively, and may also help to prevent grievous injuries and murders, which are often preceded by stalking,” says Abinaya.

“While we applaud the efforts in passing the amendments, we call on the government to also implement them swiftly, complemented by sensitivity training for PDRM, Department of Welfare, and Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) officers.

There must also be clear guidelines on correct terminology, management of online harassment and stalking cases as well as in issuing of protection orders,” she says.

“The anti-stalking amendments are the result of years of work from activists, policymakers, several governments, and also survivors who were brave enough to share their stories. We would like to thank everyone for their efforts,” she adds.

Acknowledgement that an NGO like WAO and the other women’s groups, have contributed to the passing of this law sends a strong message that civil society is important and not to give up the good work they’ve been doing, says Ivy. Photo: Ivy JosiahAcknowledgement that an NGO like WAO and the other women’s groups, have contributed to the passing of this law sends a strong message that civil society is important and not to give up the good work they’ve been doing, says Ivy. Photo: Ivy JosiahWomen’s rights activist Ivy Josiah notes that it was a momentous moment for women’s organisations because Ramkarpal also acknowledged the NGOs’ contribution to the passing of the law.

“All laws come about because of the contribution of NGOs and through the years, many laws have been debated and passed – including constitutional amendments, the Domestic Violence Act, amendments to the Rape Act, and others – but this is the first time during the debate in the passing of a law that a Deputy Minister of the ruling Government that tabled the law, has acknowledged the contribution of the NGOs,” says Ivy who has been part of civil society for almost 40 years.

“We’re so used to civil society being seen as ‘disruptive’ but here is acknowledgement that an NGO like WAO and the other women’s groups, have contributed to the passing of this law, she says.

“This sends a strong and significant message that civil society is important and not to give up the good work that they’ve been doing,” she concludes.

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