JOHOR BAHRU: Noor Neelofa Mohd Noor, popularly known as Neelofa, and her husband Muhammad Haris Muhammad Ismail (better known as PU Riz) are popular celebrity influencers.
Yet in recent months they have made headlines for the wrong reasons and are now infamous for continued violations of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) under Malaysia’s Movement Control Orders (MCOs).
Whether it was a wedding ceremony that clearly violated social distancing requirements, a questionable “work trip” to Langkawi, crossing state lines on a carpet shopping trip and organizing a family reunion on Hari Raya Aidilfitri’s first day, they not only committed multiple offenses, but also happily posted them on social media.
This week, they pleaded not guilty to the charges of not registering for the MySejahtera tracking app at Negeri Sembilan’s carpet store. Police said they would not press charges for crossing state borders, on the advice of the attorney general’s office.
Immediately after the hearing, netizens pointed out that Neelofa was not wearing a mask under his niqab at the Seremban Magistrates’ Court, as required by COVID-19 orders. The investigation into this latest saga has begun.
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CELEBRITY SLIP UPS?
Sadly, Neelofa and PU Riz aren’t the only celebrities breaking the COVID-19 rules. While at the start of the pandemic, Malaysian celebrities gathered to remind Malaysians to comply with the SOPs, many have been seen blatantly ignoring them.
Police opened investigations in Siti Nurhaliza, one of Malaysia’s most popular singers, for hosting an event to commemorate the birth of her newborn baby. Several of his guests and other dignitaries are said to have crossed borders to attend the event.
This disregard for the rules goes beyond the bad behavior of a few individuals and seems to be a bit commonplace.
In recent months, a number of Instagram influencers have been fined for providing false information in their travel apps, while others have been fined for Hari Raya video greetings. without mask.
A fashion show for local brand Leeyanarahman Collection in Kuala Lumpur, held in March, showed many attendees of the fashion show without masks.
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Anger over celebrity SOP violations has boiled over. A national petition to put Neelofa and her husband in jail collected 25,000 signatures in less than 36 hours, but the demands include stopping the double standard in law enforcement and understandably so.
On the same day in April that Neelofa, her husband and family members were fined a total of RM 60,000 ($ 14,500) for arranging a wedding without social distancing or masks, a street vendor in Kelantan was fined RM 50,000 for keeping his hamburger stand open beyond 10pm, sparking angry comparisons. No wonder Neelofa was quick to offer to pay the hamburger seller’s fine.
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Frustration with double standards also appears to revolve around a perceived heavier burden of proof for celebrities. Most celebrities and dignitaries filmed violating SOPs are called in for investigations before being charged.
Some ordinary citizens, however, receive an immediate summons to the site well beyond their financial means without the need for further investigation. Some have spent time in jail because of their inability to pay the fine or appeal the charges.
Do these personalities think they are above the law? Don’t they know they are breaking the law?
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It might be a few bad eggs, but the feeling of injustice is hard to shake off. While ordinary Malaysians are forced to stay at home, celebrities could not only walk around without their masks, but they could also host events like the Iftar party on April 29 at a hotel in Kuala Lumpur.
Worse yet, celebrities seem too obsessed with AGC’s impact on them and aren’t bothered by the vast challenges the country faces from the pandemic.
Kamal Adli and Uqasha Senrose, another celebrity couple, announced their plans to hold three wedding celebrations at the end of March. They said they hoped the SOP restrictions would be relaxed by then. Internet users were quick to point out that they should hope the COVID-19 numbers drop instead.
Indeed, the most painful realization is how extravagantly these celebrities live while the rest of the nation suffers.
Many on social media have pointed out how offensive the cheeky displays of wealth and luxury are at a time when others have lost their jobs, suffered big drops in income, or are sick.
Since a number of these celebrities are exploiting Islamic hijabi trends to engage their followers, there has also been some concern about just how pious they are and if they are the kind of role models people should be looking for.
Some also pointed out that Neelofa’s wife PU Riz is an Islamic preacher. Yet the couple’s displays of self-indulgence and outright contempt for SOP violations run counter to the moderation and honesty expected of religious spokespersons.
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FOCUS ON THE FIGHT AGAINST THE PANDEMIC
While celebrities who continually flout SOP restrictions without considering the dangers of COVID-19 have come under huge criticism, there are a handful of fans who appear to be tirelessly supporting their Insta heroes.
Neelofa, for example, continues to have huge success on Instagram, with some calling her a “strong girl” for overcoming the controversy around her. It is also problematic if such behaviors set the standards for young Malaysians and send the wrong signal about how seriously COVID-19 rules should be treated.
When performers continue to break the law with impunity and seem to get away with just slapping the wrists, audience frustration can fuel resistance against the rules and distract needed attention from the breakdown in the transmission chain.
This lack of focus on tackling the pandemic is even more dangerous now that the new daily number of infections in Malaysia has reached 6,000 cases, with intensive care unit beds filling up quickly and the death toll rising.
Hospitals in Kedah have already said they will no longer allow chronic patients in intensive care. A hospital in Sungai Buloh, Selangor, even set up a special air-conditioned tent just to store the bodies of the dead.
The situation is increasingly dire and Malaysians need to focus on the pandemic to reduce its spread, instead of being distracted by endless celebrity drama.
Celebrities like Neelofa can do their part too – by obeying the law.
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Dr Serina Rahman, Visiting Fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, writes from Johor where she is in contact with the rest of Malaysia.