A native court in the Malaysian state of Sabah has ordered a Pakistani businessman to pay a fine of eight buffaloes and eight gongs after he insulted local indigenous groups in a now-viral voice recording.
Amir Khan Nawati, a 50-year-old businessman, pleaded guilty to using slurs to describe the Kadazandusun and Kimaragang communities, native groups on Borneo island, in a voice recording that was widely circulated on Facebook, the Malay Mail reports.
Amir, who runs a business in the town of Kota Marudu, holds residency in Malaysia, and has reportedly been living in Sabah for many years. The culturally distinct East Malaysian state, along with the state of Sarawak, adheres to a different set of laws than Peninsular Malaysia, and has its own special courts dealing with indigenous laws and customs.
Race remains a sensitive issue across multi-ethnic Malaysia, with District Chief Baintin Adun, who presided over Tuesday’s case, saying that the audio recordings made in May and June “stirred a lot of anger.” He did not reveal what Amir’s comments were, but noted they contained threats and foul language.
“We want to make this an example so other people don’t do the same thing again,” Baintin told AFP. “I want to appeal to society that if there are misunderstandings or arguments, don’t mention a person’s race.”
For his crime, Amir was fined eight buffaloes and eight gongs, valuable goods among indigenous communities in Sabah that are often used to pay dowries and settle grievances. If he fails to pay the fine in a month’s time, he risks having to pay $940 in cash, serve a 16-month jail sentence, or both.
Amir reportedly appeared sad upon hearing the verdict, local media reported, and left the courtroom with his head bowed.
The case wasn’t the first time foreigners in Sabah have been fined for insulting local culture. In 2015, in Sabah’s capital of Kota Kinabalu, a group of misbehaving Western tourists were fined 10 buffaloes for stripping bare and urinating on the revered, spiritually significant peak of Mount Kinabalu.