Two years ago on this date, I lived a nightmare any parent would be afraid to have to go through. Let alone a parent of a differently-abled child. In this case, however, it was not a child, but a young adult. The day 22-year old Ahmad Ziqri Morshidi, spent his birthday night in a police cell.
I never expected the case to garner so much interest worldwide, let alone nationwide. Support groups came out in full force from different parts of the country, parents of special needs children held tightly to their kids fearing the worse as it can happen to any of them in their lifetime. The media had a crash course in autism when filing their reports. The police department took a bashing for lack of empathy and sensitivity in handling special needs cases. I was told that a university in Scotland used Ziqri’s case as a study on what needs to be done.
Most importantly, it was a landmark case in Malaysia for autism awareness and understanding. I like the way an online portal, Cilisos managed the story. There was even a petition calling for justice to be meted for Ziqri and Autism started by a support group in Sabah.
I remember it like it was yesterday. There we were celebrating the birthday of Ahmad Ziqri, scheduled for the day after, 12 September. On that night, we had a nice time having dinner at Logenhouse Restaurant in Subang Jaya and cutting cake and singing the birthday song. After all, it’s not often that he gets to go out and have birthday parties every year. Ziqri is super autistic and his presence sometimes disturb other diners.
Logenhouse was chosen because it is Ziqri-friendly. This means that the staff are well aware of Ziqri’s peculiarities and special needs. They can reassure the diners when he gets super hyper or suffer a meltdown. And they are well aware that sometime during dinner, Ziqri will run out to make his usual visit to the neighbouring shops.
This time, however, things took a different twist. Ziqri went out for a bit, and nonchalantly came back for the cake cutting. A few minutes after that I heard a man shouting outside the door and looking towards the door, I saw two policemen and they wanted to have a talk with me.
It seems that there is a police report lodged against Ziqri for touching the chest of a young lady, the daughter of the shouting man. My heart dropped when I heard that and I had to muster all of the resources from within me to stand erect and in my calmest of tones explained about Ziqri’s condition to the angry father.
After spending umpteenth hours at the USJ 8 police station with Ziqri going through meltdowns due to sensory overload, and despite my pleading, the police decided to detain him in the cell a bit after midnight on his birthday morning. Not knowing what to do, I had to lie to him that he would be acting in a Gerak Khas movie (that is his favourite Malaysian police story), thus he had to spend the night in a police cell.
We then rushed home as we had to prepare the papers for his court appearance the next morning, and looked for legal representation for him, which, at 3.00 am was almost an impossible task. Not forgetting the fact that we also had to tend to my youngest son Aidel who has been diagnosed with Aspergers.
What happened in court the next morning was another nightmare to live through. No one expected Ziqri to arrive in the orange prisoner garb and handcuffed to another suspect. Ziqri look bewildered, I was heartbroken, his former teacher Anne Subashini and my friends Reshma Yusuf and Thila Lakshman were unable to contain themselves. The lawyers that have kindly volunteered to assist Ziqri with his case did not expect this too.
What happened in court set the precedent for court appearances for special needs cases. More details about what happened then will be disclosed in my Q&A interview with the lawyers, Gerard Lazarus and Gabriel which will be published in Part Two next week.
Thanks to the brilliant explanation by the lawyers, in particular Gerard who has known Ziqri since he was a child, the magistrate put aside the remand order by the police for an extension of four more days and subsequently, Ziqri was released on police bail.
The nightmare, however, did not end there. Ziqri was severely traumatized. The family of the young lady who made the police report was belligerent in continuing with the investigation and refused to withdraw the report. Netizens took sides, some were rooting for us, while others were empathic towards the young lady, understandably. We became victims of a total lack of awareness on the protocols pertaining to handling such special cases.
The case was even debated in the Malaysian Parliament and later, the Police department came up with a Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) for special needs cases, in particular for those with autism.
Sadly, none of the authorities approached me to ask for my views and expectations. Perhaps they thought I was just an emotional mother. Little did they realise I have always been rooting for families with special needs children, not only in my postings, but with my involvement with the Inclusive Outdoor Classroom and the Autism Café Project. After all, my hashtags have always been #AutismIsBeautiful and #ThereIsLifeWithAspergers. It is beautiful, if you choose to see it that way.
What is the status of Ziqri’s case now? Read all about it in next week’s segment when we also speak with some parents and NGOs on their thoughts.