SINGAPORE: A religious teacher tasked with teaching two young siblings began kissing them on the cheeks, before kissing only the girl twice on the lips.
For an indecent act with a child, then eight, the 66-year-old man was sentenced to six weeks' jail on Monday (Mar 16).
The man, who cannot be named due to a gag order protecting the victim's identity, was an accredited Islamic Teacher under the Asatizah Recognition Scheme by the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS).
He conducted Quranic recitation classes at his flat at least three nights a week, said Deputy Public Prosecutor Muhamad Imaduddien.
The court heard that the victim, who was in Primary 3 at the time of the offence, had been going for the night classes at the accused's flat with her brother twice a week since 2017.
They addressed the accused as Pak Ustaz, an Arabic term meaning religious teacher.
Sometime in 2018, the victim noticed that the ustaz had started kissing her on both cheeks after she greeted him with a salaam, a kiss on the hand given out of respect.
She noticed that the ustaz also kissed her brother's cheeks.
However, in January 2019, the man took this a step further. When the victim and her brother arrived at the teacher's flat for the classes, she greeted him with a salaam.
He then kissed both her cheeks, before kissing her on the lips. The teacher told the victim not to tell anybody, and the girl noticed that the teacher had not kissed her younger brother on the lips.
Fearing this may happen to her again, the victim told her mother about what happened and her father subsequently lodged a police report.
The ustaz pleaded guilty to one count of an indecent act with a child, with another charge for kissing the same victim's lips a second time taken into consideration.
HIS DUTY WAS TO IMPART KNOWLEDGE: PROSECUTOR
The prosecutor pushed for a jail term of at least two months, saying that the victim was in a very vulnerable position as the accused was her religious teacher.
"His primary duty was to impart knowledge and teach the victim the correct manner to recite the verses in the Quran and the offence was committed in his own flat before the said class commenced, the last place the victim would have expected anything untoward to happen," said the prosecutor.
He said there was an egregious abuse of trust and religious authority, adding that the victim had known the teacher since she was in Primary 1 and treated him as a grandfather figure.
The offence was also premeditated, as the teacher told the victim not to tell anyone about what had happened.
The teacher's lawyer said his client did not know at the time of the offence that it was an indecent act.
District Judge Teo Guan Kee emphasised that the teacher now accepts that his act was an indecent one under the Children and Young Persons Act.
While he agreed with the prosecution that there were elements of abuse of trust and authority, he noted that the man was a first-time offender and had pleaded guilty early.
He gave a slightly lower sentence and granted the accused his request to begin serving sentence two days later.
For an indecent act with a child, the teacher could have been jailed for up to five years, fined a maximum S$10,000, or both.
MUIS told CNA in a statement on Monday that the offender had been suspended under the Asatizah Recognition since January 2019.
"Any criminal act will automatically de-register an individual from the scheme, therefore the individual will no longer be allowed to teach Al-Quran or conduct classes on Islam in Singapore," said the spokesperson.
Ustaz Mahmoud Mathlub Sidek, the assistant director in the Office of Mufti (Asatizah Recognition) said that Muis and the Asatizah Recognition board take a serious stance on such cases and will not hesitate to take action to ensure that the safety and welfare of the public, especially children, are safeguarded.
"No individual should be allowed to abuse his or her position of authority or influence as a religious teacher," said Ustaz Mahmoud.
MUIS also reminded the public to be vigilant and report errant behaviour to the authorities.