Nude photos at sacred sites: funny to foreigners, offensive to locals

WATCH: Two Canadians are in a Malaysian jail after they posed naked and behaved badly on top of a sacred mountain in Malaysia. As Mike Drolet reports, it’s a reminder that when you’re a tourist, offending the locals can land you in big trouble.

It may be just a mountain to some, but pulling down your pants at sacred sites is not something that’s giggled at by the people who hold such places, like Malaysia’s Mount Kinabalu, in special regard.

A brother and sister from Regina and the group of eight other travellers they were hiking with last month are learning that lesson — siblings Lindsey and Danielle Petersen, ages 23 and 22, are among four people who have been detained in Malaysia.

Members of the group stand accused of posing nude for a photo, posted on Facebook May 30, near the summit of the mountain, in Sabah state on the island of Borneo.

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WATCH: Hearing for group accused of Malaysian mountain nudity

READ MORE: Blamed for earthquake: Nude Canadian climbers detained in Malaysia

Days later, on June 5, a magnitude-5.9 earthquake hit that same area, leaving 18 people dead including seven students and three teachers on a primary school excursion from Singapore to the UNESCO World Heritage site.

Officials in Sabah made a tenuous connection between the stunt and the disaster, claiming the “disrespectful and uncivilized” behaviour led to the tragedy.

“Whether other people believe this or not, it’s what we Sabahans believe. When the earthquake happened, it’s like a confirmation of our beliefs,” the Malay Mail Online reported Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Joseph Pairin Kitigan saying. “It’s a sacred mountain and you cannot take it lightly.”

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Masidi Manjun, the state’s deputy minister of tourism, said it was “something that is not only insulting to the Kadazan Dusun [people] but is something abhorrent and totally unacceptable to be done on a sacred mountain.” But, he later said his comments were “misconstrued” and that he didn’t suggest the nudity caused the tremor.

READ MORE: Regina travel agent stresses importance of learning local customs abroad

The Kadazan Dusun are the largest tribe in Sabah, Manjun said.

There is, of course, no science to prove that nudity at a sacred site would cause a deadly quake, but the Straits Times reported Manjun saying there would be a cleansing ceremony at the site that would involve Muslims, Christians and Kadazan Dusun tribal leaders.

The Kadazan Dusun, according to the Sabah Tourist Association, have animistic beliefs.

“Their ancient beliefs on the verity that everything has life — the rocks, trees, and rivers are all living things,” the tourist association’s website explains.

But it’s not just their tribal beliefs that may have been offended. The area has people of multiple faiths including Muslims, Christians and Catholics.
The tourist association advises travellers to Sabah to dress modestly and warns “[n]ude sunbathing is not allowed and is very frowned upon.”
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The Borneo Post reported the group may face a native court.

It may also face jail and/or a fine if its members are charged and convicted of performing an obscene act in a public place, under Section 294 (a) of Malaysia’s penal code.

Nude photos at sacred sites: funny to foreigners, offensive to locals - image
Commission of Law Revision, Malaysia/ screen grab

If you think that punishment is strict, being naked in public or exposing yourself in public view “without lawful excuse” is an offence in Canada as well.

So, for example, if one of these same tourists decided to do the full monty in the middle of Vancouver they could also face jail time or a fine.

According to the Vancouver Police Department, a summary conviction could lead to a fine up to $5,000 and/or up to six months behind bars.

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“Obviously it would depend on the totality of the circumstances involved if an offence was committed. Then there is the question of whether there is evidence to support a charge, the offenders criminal history, and if it is in the public’s interest to recommend charges,” Const. Brian Montague explained in an email to Global News.

The Petersen siblings, along with a 23-year-old Dutch man, turned themselves in to police Tuesday evening, while police arrested a British woman, 24-year-old Eleanor Hawkins, earlier in the afternoon.

READ MORE: Young Canadians drawn to vagabond culture through online communities

Sacred or not, western tourists wearing nothing but their birthday suits in far off places doesn’t usually end well.

Two American sisters were deported from Cambodia in February after they snapped a nude photo at Angkor Wat — also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and sacred site. Three French tourists were booted from the country for the same reason in January.

And in March 2014 it was Canadians again in trouble with the law for their alleged naked photo shoot at Machu Picchu – Peru’s ancient Inca ruins.

Peruvian authorities arrested two 20-year-olds, identified as Marc Antoine Daudelin and Patrice Mathieu, after they liberated themselves of their clothing and ran through an area of the site known as the Temple of the Three Windows, capturing their streak on their cellphone cameras.

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But faith and spirituality are not a good enough argument for one of the travellers involved in the fiasco.

Emil Kaminski posted the photo on his Facebook page. He’s and avid traveler and no stranger to flashing his cheeks on mountaintops — bearing his butt before scenic views in at least four photos he shared on Facebook.

Kaminski, a travel blogger who has been identified as being from Canada but whose Facebook page indicates he lives in Hong Kong, was reportedly leading the group of westerners up Mount Kinabalu.

He has little regard for the argument that people’s spiritual sensitivities might have been offended by dropping his pants on a mountaintop.

In a video posted to his YouTube channel on June 8, Kaminski responded to Manjun’s perceived suggestion that the earthquake might have been linked to the tourists stripping down.

“… You really need to have lobotomized yourself on a piece of heavy machinery… you don’t know anything about plate tectonics, about geology and about seismology.”

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