An aerial photograph of Mount Kinabalu.
Mount Kinabalu appears through the clouds over Kota Kinabalu, capital of the east Malaysian state of Sabah on Borneo island, in this 2002 aerial photograph. Known as "aki nabalu" or "home of the spirits of the dead" to the Kadazan Dusun locals, Kinabalu is Southeast Asia's highest mountain, standing at 13,435 feet. REUTERS/Bazuki Muhammad

Nude trekkers atop Mount Kinabalu deported for offending religious sensibilities

An aerial photograph of Mount Kinabalu.

Mount Kinabalu appears through the clouds over Kota Kinabalu, capital of the east Malaysian state of Sabah on Borneo island, in this 2002 aerial photograph. Known as "aki nabalu" or "home of the spirits of the dead" to the Kadazan Dusun locals, Kinabalu is Southeast Asia's highest mountain, standing at 13,435 feet. REUTERS/Bazuki Muhammad

 This image is available for web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

CANTERBURY, England (RNS) A 23-year-old British backpacker who stripped naked and then urinated on a mountain held to be sacred by local villagers has been sentenced to three days imprisonment and fined $1,396 by a court in Kuala Lumpur.

Eleanor Hawkins, from Derby, was in the middle of a post-university gap year traveling around Southeast Asia.

In Malaysia, she and three other young people -- Canadian siblings Lindsey and Danielle Petersen and a Dutch traveler, Dylan Snel -- had climbed part of the 13,435-foot Mount Kinabalu in Borneo when they decided to strip their clothes and shoot a picture.

In court they admitted to urinating on the mountain and swearing at a guide who told them to respect the mountain because local people have strong religious beliefs that it is where their ancestors reside in the afterlife.

Soon after this incident, an earthquake struck.

Eighteen people, including children, were killed on June 5, and hundreds more were stranded.

Because the four backpackers were already in custody, a judge ruled that their punishment had been served and ordered them to be deported.

Earthquakes are unusual in the Malaysian state of Sabah, where Mount Kinabalu is located.

Sabah’s deputy chief minister Joseph Pairin Kitingan told reporters: "It is a sacred mountain. We have to take this as a reminder that local beliefs and customs are not to be disrespected."

Jamil Aripin, a prosecutor, said there was no link between the earthquake and the stripping but said it had outraged the local community.

"This is a wake-up call,” said Rita Payne, president of the Commonwealth Journalists Association. “Students, journalists, backpackers should all show respect to the culture and religious beliefs of other people and stop thinking that what's acceptable in their own country is acceptable everywhere else. It's not.”



  1. TREVOR!

    “Soon after this incident, an earthquake struck.
    Eighteen people..were killed on June 5.”

    Are you going to leave the insinuation that naked urinators caused an earthquake??

    Any society which opens its property to tourists must accept that it is not reasonable to expect people to respect local superstitions.
    Don’t like it? Then don’t open ‘sacred’ grounds for hikers.

    Are bathroom facilities normally provided for hikers on these trails? If NOT where do you think people normally relieve themselves?
    And are there clear codes against nudity? Why?

    If nudity is the problem, then the locals need to grow up.
    Superstition is not a respectable argument against nudity. Using the mountain for a bathroom is certainly disrespectful – but if there are no bathrooms…what do you expect?

  2. The moral of this incident, never spend your hard earned money, in a backward country, like Malaysia, where the citizens still believe Mount Kinabalu is a sacred spot where their souls go to rest when they die.
    The Malaysians have no morals, as they are type of folks that would burn people at the stakes, for witchcraft, nearer to God they are not, nearer to perdition they are.
    Malaysia needs to respect the tourist’s custom and beliefs, as they granted them entry, into the country, otherwise forbid the entrance of foreigners, like other countries have done.
    Caveat emptor.

  3. Really Max? I couldn’t find a bathroom the last time I visited St. Patrick’s Cathedral. I doubt even you’d find it okay if I had peed in the pews. Forget religion, try it at the Lincoln Memorial. These backpackers acted obnoxiously.
    And the bit about the earthquake. This is a straight news piece. It wasn’t reported to insinuate anything, it was reported to explain the locals’ connecting the earthquake to the event. Even the prosecutor had to take pains to say they weren’t related.

  4. St. Patricks and the Lincoln Memorial are not natural parts of the landscape.

    I am pretty sure given the size of the mountain that plenty of people have needed to relive themselves “en plein aire” while they were hiking up it. Even the most devout.

    Yes the backpackers acted obnoxiously and deserved the jail, fine and deportation. If you can’t respect the local rules traveling abroad when it comes to landmarks, you invite whatever trouble befalls you.

    The nudity thing is not excusable. There are places where public nudity is acceptable. They are designated as such. This was not one.

  5. You have that backwards, Mr. John Q. Proper etiquette (and simple human decency) dictates that when you are the visitor, you respect that culture’s traditions and beliefs.

  6. Once again, white Western meddling leads to death in an Eastern land. All of Western civilization must bear the shame of the deaths in this white-caused earthquake.

    Decolonize tourism!

  7. The type of tourist that respected the Germans gasing Jews, and said nothing out of good etiquette, as that was their culture, at the time.

  8. When you visit any country their laws, their rules, and their morality apply, regardless of what you think of it. Your government is going to have little to nothing say about it, nor is it going to come rescue you. The trekkers were very lucky that the punishment was not years in prison, or a death sentence.

  9. The call of nature is a problem in midtown if you don’t know the ropes. But Sak’s is right across the street from St Patrick’s and the Plaza is only ten short blocks away. Point is that the hotels and department stores are a good resource for such convenience. But I’m surprised that St Patricks–well, actually, no, I’m not.

  10. St. Pats doesn’t have public facilities?

    The Lincoln Memorial is an open air thing but portajohns are plentiful in the area. Proximity to the Vietnam Memorial makes it a must

  11. In all fairness those guys shot the other kind of tourists.

  12. Larry, St. Patrick’s may have public bathrooms but I couldn’t easily find them when I was there- i was only in the front part of the building. They don’t make them easy to find. I went to the Gap instead.

  13. The point is. . . when I’m visiting someone else’s house their rules apply. I don’t have to agree or live like them in my own home. Of course hikers need to relieve themselves, and usually do discreetly. “Excuse me,” they say, and walk off alone. This is western kids being western kids. Entitled, superior, obnoxious. And wouldn’t it be a shame if the mountain was closed to other hikers because . . . that’s what governments can do. You don’t have to like their reasons.

    And yes of course, some countries need the money tourism provides. But why you gotta go and disrespect them like that? 3 too-much-money-not-enough-sense kids on a gap year — (that’s a year of traveling halfway around the world, without having to make money) disrespect a Sherpa this way?

  14. These atheist (probably) should be stripped and stood in Trafalgar Square while the world takes videos for a new BBC series: “Why the Empire Collapsed”.

  15. Probably? I would think those are good Christian folk giving the disrespect to the local religion that your faith would demand. 🙂

  16. You would think that, yes. But then you are a unique aberration in the world today.

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