Four Western tourists are facing three months in a Malaysian prison after allegedly stripping naked on a "sacred" mountain — an act local tribes believe angered spirits and triggered a deadly earthquake.
Two Canadians, a British woman and a Dutch national appeared in court Wednesday and were remanded on charges of indecent exposure, the local police commissioner said according to news agencies. If convicted they face a fine and a prison sentence of up to three months.
The British woman was identified by her father on Thursday as Eleanor Hawkins, a 23-year-old graduate from the English city of Derby.
She was "obviously quite scared and upset" following her detention, Tim Hawkins said in a statement to NBC News. He said his daughter had been traveling in Southeast Asia when she was detained.
"She knows what she did was stupid and disrespectful and she is very sorry for the offence she has caused the Malaysian people," her father said. "She has never been in any sort of trouble before."
Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs had said on Tuesday that it was aware of reports that the two of its nationals had been barred from leaving the country but declined to give any more information.
The tourists are accused of taking naked photos of themselves last month on the 13,500-foot Mount Kinabalu, one of the tallest mountains in southeast Asia. It is located in a park in Sabah state that is designated as a UNESCO heritage site. The pictures were widely disseminated on social media and prompted angry an angry reaction from Malaysians.
Last Friday, a 6.0-magnitude earthquake hit near the peak, killing 18 people and temporarily trapping more than 100 climbers.
Outraged tribal chiefs said the tourists' "disrespectful" actions angered spirits and prompted the quake. Political leaders were united in calling for their arrests, according to Masidi Manjun, the state's tourism, culture and environment minister.
"Mount Kinabalu is considered a very sacred place by the natives of Sabah, and any action that could be interpreted as belittling the mountain is considered a very serious offense," Manjun told NBC News.
Local police have obtained a court order to detain the tourists for four days while their case is being investigated, state police commissioner Jalaluddin Abdul Rahman said Wednesday.
He added that up to 10 people were allegedly featured in the nude images and his officers were trying to track down those not in custody.
"Will continue the investigation and look for who else is involved, and if they are still in Sabah we will catch them," he said.