‘Party-goers’ to learn fate on Saturday

Fadley Faisal

Twelve local men, five local women and three juveniles yesterday pleaded guilty in the Magistrate’s Court for an offence under Section 269 of the Penal Code, Chapter 22 for negligently committing an act, knowing it was likely to spread the infection of a disease dangerous to life. Several of the defendants faced additional charges under Section 6(b) of the Misuse of Drugs Act, Chapter 27 for consumption of a controlled drug and Section 7 of the Misuse of Drugs Act, Chapter 27 for possession of utensils intended for the consumption of controlled drugs.

Muhammad Dzulhelmi bin Zulkifli , Hezrin bin Sumin, Muhd Wafi Mahyuddin bin Muhd Jair, Ahmad Hafizan bin Sufian, Amirul Hafiz bin Amir Mahmood, Mohd Izzat bin Abdul Rahman, Nur Hadi Ilhamsyah, Md Amiruddin bin Mohammad, Jorainie @ Ainie binti Jormasie, Abdul Hafiz bin Abdul Rahim, Mohd Azizan bin Mohd Marzuki, Mohd Amir Muqri bin Haji Md Taha, Latifah Ali, Mohammad Mateen bin Abdullah Mohammad Cyrus, Qurratu’aini Bazlaa binti Azman, Malai Tsaqifah binti Haji Malai Yusri and Fatin Nabilah binti Azman and three juveniles were arrested by the Royal Brunei Police Force after they were discovered having a gathering in rooms at a hotel between April 4 and the early hours of April 5 amidst the COVID-19 pandemic in the country, in spite of the guidelines and instructions given by the Ministry of Health (MoH) on precautionary measures including social distancing and limiting gatherings.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Pengiran Norsuzanawati binti Pengiran Haji Abas revealed in court that the police also found some defendants consuming cigarettes, alcohol and controlled drugs namely cannabis and ecstasy at the gathering, with empty whisky bottles, cigarettes and drug utensils being seized as exhibits.

On the day of the incident, at around 1.15am, two policemen posted at the hotel to guard an isolation area for those serving a Self-Isolation Notice for COVID-19 issued by the MoH, were conducting an inspection when they heard loud noises and music from a hotel room on the fourth floor. Upon their entry into the hotel room, several of the defendants panicked and tried to escape from the room by jumping off the balcony of the room to the floor below, but were subsequently caught and brought back to the fourth floor.

The prosecution in her submissions on sentencing, drew the court’s attention to the status of COVID-19 cases in Brunei Darussalam at the time of the incident, and that at the time of the incident, Brunei Darussalam was facing the peak of infected cases in the country and daily new cases of COVID-19 attesting that the COVID-19 pandemic was and still is a national cause for concern. The DPP highlighted that precautionary measures including the directions and instructions on social distancing and limits to gatherings issued by the MoH were broadcast live on TV, radio and social media to reduce the risk of local and further transmission of COVID-19.

The DPP also referred to His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien, Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam’s special titah on March 21, 2020 on COVID-19 in which His Majesty called on everyone to unite in combatting the COVID-19 outbreak and to avoid mass gatherings, wear face masks, etc.

The DPP submitted that the defendants blatantly disregarded the seriousness of the situation that had been emphasised by His Majesty in his titah and what was reminded repeatedly in the daily press conferences and that the defendants had no real reason to hold this gathering.

The DPP submitted that aggravating factors including the consumption of alcohol and drugs at the gathering, and the presence of underaged minors who were also allowed to partake in the gathering, make it imperative that these offences are dealt with as severely as the law allows and for a deterrent sentence to be passed.

The DPP lastly submitted that five of the defendants are uniformed personnel and that they should be setting examples as abiding citizens to the directions of the government and to support the government’s initiatives in curbing the spread of this pandemic and cited these as further aggravating factors for the court’s consideration.

Magistrate Pengiran Hazirah binti Pengiran Haji Yusof will be handing down sentence on Saturday while considering fitting punishments in the meantime.

The juvenile defendants will be dealt with in closed courts on a later date.

The defendants face penalties of a maximum sentence of five years’ imprisonment and a fine for the offence under Section 269 of the Penal Code, Chapter 22. Some other defendants face additional sentences of 10 years’ imprisonment and BND20,000 fine or both, and three years’ imprisonment and fine or both for the offences under Section 6(b) and Section 7 of the Misuse of Drugs Act, Chapter 27 respectively.