Richard Huckle: Malaysians deplore 'devil that hid in the church'
News of British national Richard Huckle's rape and abuse of children in Malaysia over eight years has elicited disgust, anger and despair in the press and social media there.
"The devil that hid in the church" is how one headline in English language daily The Star described him. Headlines in other papers have focused on his rape of babies and toddlers. Several commentators on Facebook and Twitter, both widely used in Malaysia, said the story made them feel "sick".
"Huckle was able to use both religion and his 'status' as a white foreigner to gain the trust of communities eager to accept help in fighting a difficult battle against poverty," said an editorial in The Star. "What a cruel thing to do."
But the dismay expressed is not just over Huckle's abuse. It is also in reaction to the fact that he was able to carry out the abuse for such a long time without detection.
No warning signs?
Opposition politicians have demanded the police and government reveal what they knew of Huckle's activities, and what steps they have taken since to prevent others from doing the same.
"As the public gains a clearer picture of the extent of Huckle's vile acts, his victims and their families struggle to regain some sense of dignity and honour to move forward," said a statement from the People's Justice Party. "We can only hope that the authorities can also explain why such a devious individual was not caught sooner, in order to correct these measures for the future."
"The high number of Huckle's victims and the extent of his crimes in Malaysia raised serious questions as to whether our authorities were really in the dark over these abuses," said one human rights group, Lawyers for Liberty. "Were there no warning signs or complaints at all from the victims and family members, church, NGOs or hospitals?"
Questions over late notice
Some are also asking why the Malaysian authorities were not notified sooner. British police detained Huckle in 2014 after a tipoff from Australian police who had been investigating him. Malaysian police said they were informed of the case by the UK's National Crime Agency only a month ago.
"By not alerting Malaysian police to the misdeeds of Huckle, British police allowed him to roam freely in Malaysia and target children," said one opinion piece in The Malay Mail Online. "If we had been made aware of the depths of his immorality, children could have been saved from the clutches of a horrible man."
Others have wondered if it is because the Malaysian police were not felt to be up to the job. "A telling point in this case is that the Australian Police force did not contact their Malaysian counterparts (and there are parties now who are up in arms over this). It does beg the question, if you are respected as an organisation would you not be approached in the first place?" asked one commenter on Facebook.
Lack of action
Huckle's case has also prompted many to ask why the authorities have not enacted other measures to curb sex offenders.
"The battle against child sex offenders in the country still faces a major stumbling block due to the absence of a national sex offenders registry," wrote Emmanuel Santa Maria Chin in The Malay Mail Online.
Child rights advocate James Nayagam has called for making child pornography and child sexual abuse severe crimes with heavy penalties, and for institutions dealing with children to have standard operating procedures to screen people entering the premises.
'How can we be outraged?'
Many have also criticised what they see as double standards in attitudes to similar cases at home.
"How can we be outraged at Richard Huckle when we don't have laws banning child marriages?" asked former Bar chairman, Dipendra Harshad Rai, on Twitter. "Richard Huckle and his ilk thrive in Msia because they know our system is broken, corrupted and exposed. So, lets not get too sanctimonious."
Malay Mail Online columnist Boo Su-Lyn echoed this sentiment, comparing Huckle to a Malaysian government scholar, Nur Fitri Azmeer Nordin, who was convicted for possession of more than 30,000 images of child pornography in Britain last year, and jailed for nine months before the Malaysian government arranged for him to be repatriated.
Nur Fitri is currently free to roam in Malaysia, and police have said they have no authority to track him because the offence he committed is not recognised by Malaysian law.
"Malaysia cannot just be outraged at one foreigner for violating 22 of our children. We must act with the same anger against our fellow citizens who use outdated cultural and religious norms to justify having sex with... children," she wrote. "There are Richard Huckles among us. Let's not turn a blind eye to them."