Malaysian athletes charged with rape

Kuala Lumpur - Three teenage handball players in Malaysia have been charged with raping an official at a national tournament, a government lawyer said yesterday, in a case that has shocked the country's sporting fraternity.

The 20-year-old victim was a communications liaison officer for the Federal Territories girls' handball team at the recent inter- state Malaysia Games.

The incident is said to have occurred in the early hours of July 4, in a room at a games village during the ongoing competition, The Star newspaper reported.

It is believed the victim left the games village to have alcoholic drinks with several handball players before the alleged rape and was in a semi-conscious state during the attack.

Malaysian Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin has said initial investigations showed the suspects had also been drinking with a coach and other sports officials who have since been suspended.

The players - Adib Adha Ismail, 18; Megat Farzeril Faiz Megat Razali, 19; and Mohammad Shaizzad Md Shafie, 19 - pleaded not guilty to the rape charges.

It was not clear whether they could also be charged in Islamic court for consuming alcohol, which is unlawful for Muslims in Malaysia.

All three have been freed on bail of RM10,000 (S$4,000), despite objections from the prosecution lawyers.

In granting bail, the judge also ordered the men not to harass the victim or the witness, who also happens to be the victim's friend, Malaysian Insider reported.

Deputy public prosecutor Tan Gin Han said the court has set Aug 20 for a judge to announce a possible trial date.

If found guilty, the three accused face a maximum of 20 years in jail and whipping by cane.

The alleged rape occurred at the prestigious national-level games where top Malaysian athletes and sportsmen below the age of 21 compete with participants from different states.

The alleged incident sparked widespread public anger, and officials have demanded tough punishment for the perpetrators.

Mr Peter Velappan, former Asian Football Confederation general secretary, said on Wednesday that the "outrageous" incident was the first of its kind in Malaysian sports and had tarnished the country's reputation.

Offenders must face "severe punishment", he told Agence France-Presse.

Mr Sieh Koh Chi, secretary- general of the Olympic Council of Malaysia, also expressed "shock" at the incident, and said that "swift investigations must be carried out".