Four Westerners plead guilty over nude pix on Malaysia peak
Four Western tourists pleaded guilty in a Malaysian court Friday to obscenity charges over nude photos taken at the summit of a popular mountain, an act some in the country blame for causing a deadly earthquake.
The defendants -- Eleanor Hawkins of Britain, 24, Dutchman Dylan Snel, 23, and Canadian brother and sister Lindsey Petersen, 23, and Danielle Petersen, 22 -- entered their pleas in a court in Kota Kinabalu, capital of the state of Sabah.
Sentences were not immediately handed down but court officials have said they were expected on Friday.
The four were charged with committing an "obscene act in a public place," which carries a possible jail term of three months or a fine.
The 4,095-meter (13,435-foot) peak, a World Heritage Site and popular climbing destination, is considered sacred to tribal groups on Borneo where it is located, and Malaysians were incensed after the photos taken May 30 appeared on the Internet.
Those charged were among a larger group of tourists believed by authorities to have taken part in the nude photo spree.
The defendants were hustled into court through a media gauntlet including reporters from Britain who arrived in the sleepy state capital to cover the Hawkins case.
The two women were handcuffed together, as were the men. All four looked nervous as they arrived.
The charges read out to the court said the nudists challenged each other to take off their clothes to see who could withstand the summit's chilly air, ignoring the admonishments of their local mountain guide.
The court was told the two men stripped completely nude while the two woman went topless.
All four quickly stated "guilty' when asked to enter a plea.
Police told AFP on Friday that they were still seeking five other suspects but that some were thought to have already left Sabah.
Some have suggested the act angered tribal spirits believed to dwell on the mountain, causing a strong 6.0-magnitude earthquake on June 5 that left 18 people dead.
Indecent exposure and other acts considered obscene are strongly frowned upon in Muslim-majority Malaysia.
Tim Hawkins, the father of Eleanor, had released a statement saying he had spoken to his daughter, who was "obviously quite scared and upset."
"She knows what she did was stupid and disrespectful and is very sorry for the offence that she has caused the Malaysian people," he said.
"She has never been in any sort of trouble before. We hope that the Malaysian authorities deal with the misdemeanour and not link it to the unfortunate tragic events that occurred the following week."
The foreigners were arrested earlier this week in the wake of the earthquake.
Following the quake, Malaysian social media users began to direct increasing anger at the nudists.
Last Saturday, Sabah's deputy chief minister Joseph Pairin Kitingan and other officials also suggested the quake may have been due to the naked romp at the peak.
"This is very offensive behaviour and showed disrespect to the sacred mountain...This will certainly bring misfortune," he had told reporters.
"We can't play with the spirit of the sacred mountain."
The rare quake sent rocks and boulders raining down just as more than 150 hikers were at the peak enjoying sunrise views.
The 18 dead included seven schoolchildren from Singapore, along with two of their teachers and another adult who were on a school excursion to the mountain.
© 2015 AFP