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Saturday, 20 May 2017 | MYT 9:00 AM

A slap is never 'just a slap'


There can be hard hitting implications when it comes to the law.

Is it a crime to slap a person?

Well, in this country, if it is a slap by a parent or teacher on a person below 12 years of age under their care, it is not a crime.

Section 89 of the Malaysian Penal Code 1936 states: "Nothing, which is done in good faith for the benefit of a person under twelve years of age ... by or by consent, either express or implied, of the guardian or other person having lawful charge of that person, is an offence…."

This "right" to discipline a child below 12 is granted to the child's guardian and others like a school principal therefore does not amount to criminal force.

It is termed corporal punishment of children which is lawful under Sections 89 and 350 of the Penal Code as well as the Education Act 1996.

Hence, a teacher can cane schoolboys as they derive that authority from a parent as stated in Section 350(i) of the Penal Code: A, a head teacher, in the reasonable exercise of his discretion as head teacher, canes B, one of his scholars. A does not use criminal force to B because, although A intends to cause fear and annoyance, he does not use force illegally.

But what happens if you slap a person who is not a child whom you have no authority over?

Then there is a definition called "Hurt" under the Penal Code Section 319: Whoever causes bodily pain, disease or infirmity to any person is said to cause hurt.

But hurt can also escalate to "grievous hurt". And to show the difference, the Penal Code gives this illustration: A, intending or knowing himself to be likely permanently to disfigure Z's face, gives Z a blow which does not permanently disfigure Z's face, but which causes Z to suffer severe bodily pain for the space of ten days. A has voluntarily caused grievous hurt.

A slap which is unlikely to inflict pain lasting 10 days, falls under Section 321: "Whoever does any act with the intention of thereby causing hurt to any person, or with the knowledge that he is likely thereby to cause hurt to any person, and does thereby cause hurt to any person, is said "voluntarily to cause hurt".

In the incident at the National Transformation 2050 (TN50) dialogue with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak on Wednesday, May 17, it has been clearly established by numerous videos that comedian-actor Sulaiman Yassin walked from his seat many rows away from the stage to deliver a slap to movie producer David Teo. He ended up hitting Teo's left arm.

Sulaiman claims he was motivated to teach Teo a lesson because he was incensed by what he perceived to be Teo's disrespectful behaviour in Najib's presence. Teo had loudly criticised forum moderator Datuk Rosyam Nor for not giving a chance for other attendees not in the front rows to speak.

Rosyam then allowed Teo to speak and as the latter started reciting his pantun, Sulaiman hit him.

While it sounds very commendable for a person to want to protect another person, be it a national leader or one's offspring, can this justify an act of violence?

In March this year, a woman was sentenced to six months' jail and a fine of RM2,000 by the magistrate's court for slapping a teacher at a school in Sungai Bakap, Penang.

Tan Seow Yen, a 36-year-old mother of three, was charged with voluntarily causing hurt to her child's primary school Bahasa Malaysia teacher L. Vanitha, 38, at SJKC Chong Kuang in Sungai Bakap on Feb 2, 2015. She committed the offence after her son, 10, complained that Vanitha had pinched him for being slow in class.

A case more pertinent to the Sulaiman-Teo incident occurred in Singapore. On April 30, 2015, a man slapped teen blogger Amos Yee.

Yee, then aged 16, was notorious for his rude and vulgar YouTube posts. Shortly after the death of Lee Kuan Yew in March 2015, he uploaded a video, Lee Kuan Yew is Finally Dead!, in which he compared Lee to Jesus, both unfavourably. He went on to upload a cartoon on his blog of Lee and former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher having anal sex.

More than 30 people lodged police reports against him and Yee was arrested and charged under the Singapore Penal Code with "intention of wounding the religious feelings of Christians", obscenity, and "threatening, abusive or insulting communication."

On the morning of April 30, as Yee was walking to court for a pre-trial hearing, he was slapped on the left side of his face by Neo Gim Huah.

Neo, 49, was arrested the next day and charged with voluntarily causing hurt to Yee. At his trial, he said he wanted to teach Yee a lesson for being disrespectful and insulting Lee, the country's founding father.

The businessman and father of three was found guilty and sentenced to three weeks' jail.

In both cases, the courts were clear: no one can take the law in their own hands and mete out their own brand of justice.

Immediately after the TN50 forum incident, it was reported that Najib made Teo and Sulaiman shake hands but Sulaiman maintains he has no regrets in his action.

Police are now investigating because two reports were lodged.

Putrajaya OCPD Asst Comm Rosly Hassan said even though both sides had made peace, the police were obligated to investigate under the Penal Code for causing hurt.

While we await the outcome of the police investigation, here's food for thought from Singapore District Court judge Ronald Gwee. He handed down a sentence on Neo that was higher than the two-week sentence sought by the prosecution because he wanted to show that such actions must be sufficiently punished as a deterrent to prevent the opening of "the gates to future cases of aggrieved persons taking matters into their own hands."

"A strong message must be sent to the public at large and particularly to like-minded persons as the accused, that his brand of vigilante justice must never be allowed to take root," he said.