Witness #20 | Shakila Zen
My name is Nurul Shakila Mohamad Zain but I’m better known as Shakila Zen on social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and ML Studios media broadcasting platforms. I am also known as an environmental activist who is vocal on issues relating to abuse of power and deforestation. I am with an environmental NGO [non-governmental organisation] called Sahabat Alam Activists Association (KUASA). I am 29 years old. I am the second of five children, and was raised in a relatively conservative family in matters of religion. My father is of Javanese descent, and my mother is Malay, mixed with Arabic, Batak and Bugis ethnicities. I still live with my parents because I am unmarried.
Since 2019, I have consistently shared information and raised issues about the environment through videos that are uploaded to the ML Studios channel. Since my first video titled “Straw dan Arak: Mana Yang Patut Diharamkan?” (“Straw and Alcohol: Which Should be Banned?”), I received some comments that were not pleasant to read.
There were obscene comments about my body. Some comments that were dismissive of me just because I am a woman, can also be read in the comment section of the video. After a few of my videos became popular, this happened to me often — so much so that there were comments that really affected my peace and honour as a Muslim woman who wears a tudung (head covering). The comment went into detail about my body shape, and the commenter admitted to having participated in campaigns and activities organised by the NGO, KUASA. The comment ended with a threat to find me and do indecent things to me. I had to see a psychiatrist and a counsellor because I felt very traumatised by the comments and threats. The matter was reported to the police but, unfortunately, the case was not continued for investigation (i.e. marked as ‘NFA’ [‘No Further Action’]).
Just recently, on 30 August 2021, a stranger sent a package purportedly from Shopee [an online shopping platform] to my house. The parcel was received by my father who was then preparing to leave the house to pick up my younger sibling. A Malay man dressed in what might have been a delivery company uniform asked my father if I was at home or not. My father said that I was at home, and the man handed the package to my father. At about 6:00 pm, I opened the package and found a replica in the shape of a human hand inside; it was covered in red paint that looked like blood. Inside the package was also a note with a picture of me, along with threats to pour acid on my face and burn down my family home if I continued to work as an activist. I suspect the threat was sent following my viral video on TikTok relating to the #LAWAN rally in Kuala Lumpur, and a session entitled “Kenapa Aktivis Alam Sekitar Me#LAWAN?” (“Why do Environmental Activists #LAWAN?”) on Clubhouse [a social audio app].
I was terrified of the threat and reported the matter to the police at the North Klang Police Station. When I was questioned, a male police sergeant was cynical about my report because I received threats due to my video that supported the #LAWAN rally. The police were more interested in knowing about my viral videos rather than the threats that I received. When they questioned me, the police asked, many times, if I was part of the #LAWAN rally. Only when I was on my way back from that police station did the police called me to ask about the outfit and features of the Malay man who had delivered the parcel to my house. I was very upset and felt very tired because of the threats I had received, and because my report was not being taken seriously (at the time).
The next day, on 31 August 2021, I also received two text messages via WhatsApp that showed interest about obtaining massage and sexual services. The text messages also showed that I had purportedly advertised myself as offering traditional massage and sexual services, and a poster about this had spread everywhere. On the same day, I lodged a police report at the North Klang Police Station, along with a lawyer. The report was handed over to a female police sergeant. The female police officer also smirked while reading my police report that had been made the previous day, which I included as an attachment. The police glanced once at my report about my information that had been disseminated to the public, and told me and my lawyer that the case was not a criminal case. In fact, the police officer asked my lawyer to take me to the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) in Putrajaya.
The police officer gave me some ‘advice’ and started blaming me for being too outspoken on social media. She also asked me if I had learned my lesson and would stop making videos. Her reactions and tone of voice were as if she was mocking and ridiculing the reports and my concerns. To this day, I have yet to hear about the status of the two cases I reported.
Following from what happened to me, my colleagues started to boycott me because I had seen a psychiatrist. They called me “crazy” and said I needed medication to function normally. All this was made worse by the threat of acid being poured on me. My colleagues had also once threatened to pour acid on me, and uttered hurtful words like they would not care if I died. I became a victim of workplace bullying as a result. Some members of my family also initially blamed me for choosing to be an outspoken woman, and forced me to stop being an activist.
I am very depressed because of the discrimination I have gone through just because I defended the forest and fought against what I believe is legally and morally wrong.
At the height of my case, I had received full support and solidarity from friends from NGOs — whether environmental, humanitarian or women’s rights NGOs. I also received counselling services from AWAM [All Women’s Action Society]. A close friend of mine, and also my fiancé, are individuals who were very supportive and opposed to violence against me.
Cases of intimidation against women who speak out should be stopped immediately. Harsher laws and punishments should be put in place. I really hope that my case is the last such case faced by women activists out there. The role of the police in taking reports relating to such cases should also be reviewed, as they lack empathy and prefer to blame the victim.