Africans live in fear after false murder accusations

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 October, 2007, 12:00am

Malaysia's African community is living in fear after two students were wrongfully arrested last week for the rape and murder of two ethnic Chinese women.

The two men were later released and an ethnic Chinese cook arrested instead - but not before the media and bloggers used the case to blame Africans for rising crime.

The September 24 murders horrified the country. The two victims, aged 32 and 35, were raped then stabbed to death in front of their children, who were left unharmed.

'I can't even go out and buy food,' said Solomon Amaefula, 23, a Nigerian studying information technology. 'My friends were chased down the streets by mobs.'

The media published pictures of the pair, who lived a floor below the victims, handcuffed and heads bowed as they entered a police car.

Television stations and Chinese-language newspapers then falsely reported that the students were gigolos and that they ran a brothel, while speculating that the murders could be over earnings.

The Malay Harian Metro ran the headline 'Africans in Malaysia, an increasing menace'. The report also repeatedly used the derogatory term awang hitam, or black people, to describe Africans. Scores of letters began appearing in newspapers and online accusing Africans of being noisy, rowdy and violent.

'Most of them are big built and tough, and they scare us. If they fight, we locals will definitely not interfere because they are stronger and more aggressive,' wrote S.M. Alloysious, a retired teacher, in a letter to The Star.

'They approach locals asking for cigarettes or money in an intimidating way.'

Prominent blogger Norman Fernandez, in an entry titled 'Get rid of the Nigerians', wrote: 'With Nigerians, they either cheat you of your money or you could lose your life.'

Fernandez, an ethnic Indian, also 'thanked' the British colonial authorities for not 'bringing the Nigerians' to Malaysia, which has an ethnic mix of native Malays, immigrant Chinese and Indians.

'Imagine, with the stout and burly bodies together with their violent behaviour, we Malaysians would have been easy picking.'

On the murder of the ethnic Chinese women, he said: 'It has all the hallmarks of a typical crime committed by Nigerians - brute force, extreme violence, sexual assault and the end result of murder.'

There are 54,000 Africans in Malaysia and most are students drawn by the government's promotion of Malaysia as a budget higher education hub. Police records show only 11 Africans were arrested last year, all for minor crimes. And up to September this year, 10 had been arrested.

The criticism angered African students who wrote back appealing for restraint.

'Africans are peace-loving people and very hospitable, like [those] in Ghana where an estimated 500,000 Chinese live in harmony with Africans,' a Ghanaian student wrote to The Star.

Another wrote it would not be good if news got back to Africa that Chinese people were targeting Africans in Malaysia.

Some Malaysians defended Africans. 'The Africans I meet are mothers and fathers, and smiling children and neighbours,' wrote Mary Tan in an internet chat group. 'Please look at them as people.'

'I am more afraid of the locals than the Africans,' said Janice Revathy, a nurse.

There was an average of six rapes a day in Malaysia last year and a total of 800 murders.