No death penalty for youths nabbed for fatal tahfiz fire

KUALA LUMPUR, 22 Sept 2017: 

The youths detained in connection with a fire at the Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah residential religious school, which claimed the lives of 21 students and two teachers, cannot be punished with the death penalty.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said said Section 97 (1) of the Child Act 2001 stated the death penalty cannot be imposed on children under the age of 18.

However, the court may imprison them for as long as consented by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong or the Yang Dipertua Negeri, she added.

In addition, Section 94 of the same Act empowers the court to order the parents of the suspects to pay a fine or compensation, she said in a statement.

The police had detained seven youths, aged between 11 and 18, in connection with the fire which broke out at 5.15am on Sept 14.

Azalina said all of the suspects were still being remanded and investigated under Section 302 of the Penal Code for murder and Section 435 of the same code for mischief by fire.

She hoped the incident would serve as a lesson to all parties, especially parents, in the fight against crimes involving children.

She also urged all parties to stop speculating and give space to authorities to complete the investigations. “I believe this case will be brought to justice.”

A week after the Tahfiz Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah centre tragedy in Jalan Keramat Hujung here which took 23 lives, it still haunts firemen and residents present at the incident scene.

The tragedy was described as the worst after the fire at Sekolah Agama Rakyat Taufiqiah Al-Khairiah Al-Halimiah or better known as Pondok Pak Ya in Kampung Padang Lumut, Yan, Kedah, 28 years ago.

Firefighter Osman Aziz, 25, said his team was the first to arrive at the location when the blaze was spreading fast at about 5.40am.

“Upon reaching the scene, we could hear cries for help from a nearby building and we were shocked to find a man carrying a child attempting to get down from the building and I was ordered to save the children trapped in the building.”

Osman said firemen had to fight against the flame and thick smoke in the dark.

Wearing breathing apparatus and holding a torchlight, Osman said he could only say a prayer when he saw the charred bodies of students pilled up on one another in the rooms later.

“My heart sank as I also remembered my younger brother is studying in a tahfiz school in Marang, Terengganu.”

Senior fireman Suhaimi Abd Shukor, who headed the operation, said the incident was the saddest event he had ever witnessed in his 31 years as a fireman.

Suhaimi was also involved in several rescue operations such as the collapse of the Highland Tower in 1993 and landslide which killed six people at Taman Hillview in Ampang in 2002.

Meanwhile a resident identified as Syazwani, 25, said in the incident she rushed to the centre after being alerted by her neighbours.

“My house was near the tahfiz but I was held back by the fire as I heard cries for help while many residents tried to help but were turned back by the huge blaze.

“Even though I did not lose any loved ones, I pray and hope the affected families would be brave to face the tragedy.”

Another resident identified as Hafiz said it was eerily quiet now without the sound of tahfiz students around the Datuk Keramat Recreational Park.

A Bernama observation found many people were still visiting the location to express their sympathy and hand out contributions.

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