KUALA LUMPUR: Datuk Seri Ahmad Faizal Azumu says he was misquoted by the media over a remark questioning national diving star Datuk Pandelela Rinong's past experience with sexual harassment.
The Youth and Sports Minister also said sexual harassment is a serious issue and he as a minister was merely trying to get explanation from all angles before taking action.
"What was said in the press conference on Monday (Oct 25) might be taken out of context by the media.
"What I meant was that we need to get more explanation from Pandelela and those who were involved in the lewd joke.
"I was trying to get a thorough explanation before taking action," he said in Parliament during Question Time on Tuesday (Oct 26).
Ahmad Faizal also urged all athletes to emulate Pandelela and speak up on such allegations.
"I'm urging all athletes to stand up and speak up so that we can take immediate action."
He was responding to Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman (Independent-Muar), who interjected and asked about the ministry's stance on sexual harassment, as he cited the experiences of other athletes such as Cindy Ong and Farah Ann Abdul Hadi who also faced sexual harassment.
Syed Saddiq also asked Ahmad Faizal if he will take up a proposal to set up a special committee under the ministry to investigate sexual harassment allegations.
"This committee will involve all sides and it was jointly developed with the All Women Action Society (Awam)," he added.
Ahmad Faizal said he agreed with Syed Saddiq's proposal, saying that a thorough investigation is always important in any such allegations.
Gobind Singh Deo (PH-Puchong) then stood up and interjected, asked Ahmad Faizal whether he is aware that there is no time limitation in criminal law.
"Even if it's an old complaint, action must be taken. Can the minister please answer?"
Faizal Azumu agreed with Gobind and said the ministry is currently taking action on Pandelela's case.
"In the press conference which was uploaded on Facebook, I've also said that I will defend any untoward incidents that happen to Pandelela or any of our athletes," he added.
Ahmad Faizal was quoted by news portal Free Malaysia Today as questioning why Pandelela only brought up the issue via social media now as the incident happened "long ago".
"I am trying to understand why after a long time, Lela wants to put this out in the social media," he was quoted as saying on Monday (Oct 25).
During the press conference, Ahmad Faizal was also heard saying that he has been in touch with several people regarding the incident and he also urged all athletes to speak up on any forms of sexual harassment.
Responding to Ahmad Faizal, Pandelela, in a tweet on Monday (Oct 25) night, said she had shared her experience because she wanted to offer support to other victims out there.
The Olympic medallist, who recently revealed that she got bullied by a former coach after she confronted him for his lewd jokes, said she also hoped to encourage future victims to be brave and speak up.