Sabah STAR member arrested

KOTA KINABALU: A senior leader of Sabah STAR was arrested for allegedly molesting a participant at the just concluded state-level cultural pageant, amid a call to other contestants to come forward if they were similarly accosted.

Phillip Among (pic), who was suspended as Putatan Sabah STAR division coordinator, was arrested at his office at 1.10pm yesterday, shortly after he gave a press conference denying the accusation.

Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Hazani Ghazali confirmed the police were investigating him in connection with a report lodged by an Unduk Ngadau (Harvest Queen) contestant who alleged she was molested by him in a car on May 19.

The cultural pageant is held annually during the Kaamatan harvest festival from May 30-31, in honour of the legend of Huminodun, the daughter of Kadazandusun gods Kinoingan and Sumundu, who sacrificed her life to save the people from famine.

Comm Hazani said that investigation was being carried out under Section 354 of the Penal Code for using criminal force to outrage a person’s modesty. It carries a maximum jail term of 10 years or a fine or whipping if found guilty.

Yesterday, Among called for the press conference at 11.30am to say he filed a suit against the contestant who made the claims against him.

In the same suit, he also named a security guard for lodging a report against him over an alleged threat while also suing two online portals.

“The report of sexual molestation is totally untrue, ” he told reporters, adding that the police reports and various social media posts against him were a fabrication intended to “hurt and damage” him personally as well as his public reputation.

Among said he would cooperate with the police investigation and give his side of the story.

At about 12.20pm, a group of five policemen from the Kota Kinabalu Criminal Investigation Department turned up at his office, but they told reporters to carry on with the proceedings.

After the press conference ended and the reporters left the office, the policemen went in and arrested Among. His lawyer Marcel Jude was also in the office during the press conference.

The Unduk Ngadau Borderless Kaamatan 2021 committee chairman Joanna Kitingan, in a statement, urged any other victims of sexual or other forms of harassment to be “brave and come forward” so that justice could be served.

“We are saddened, shocked and disappointed by the reports but we are glad that the alleged victim was brave enough to lodge a report on it, ” she said, adding that she empathised with the alleged victim and felt for her.

On matters of safety concerning the contestants, she said the organising committee had done their best in all aspects of the event, including organising a talk on sexual harassment via Zoom.

Kitingan said the idea of women being out on stage paraded as objects, stared at, bullied or taken advantage of was not part of the Unduk Ngadau tradition.

Sabah Unduk Ngadau Association chairman Ellyanti Nelson said the issue should not be taken lightly, adding that it was proud that the woman was willing to bring this matter up with the authorities despite the difficulty of doing so.

Many women and former Unduk Ngadau queens including Jo-Anna Sue Henley Rampas (2007), Mandy Nandu (2005) and Fharelynne Ivonne Henry (2004) have given their moral support to the alleged victim.

While applauding the woman for her courage in speaking out, Rampas, a leader with Parti Warisan Sabah, also thanked the authorities for their swift response in investigating the matter.

Nandu said it was important to protect the dignity and well-being of all contestants.

Henry called on the public to stop victim blaming and instead focus on making sure justice was served.

“It had nothing to do with the way someone is dressed or how she presents herself, ” she added.

Many others have also shown their solidarity with the woman by sharing supportive messages on social media.

There were, however, those who blamed her as they questioned the attire and behaviour of such victims.

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