Rights group questions sentence for man filmed hanging dog from tree

A video screenshot of Muhammad Yoges Balaraman untying the dog after being admonished by a passer-by.

PETALING JAYA: An animal rights group said it is “unacceptable” for a mental health patient to be incarcerated after a man who hanged his dog from a tree was fined RM40,000 or 12 months jail in lieu yesterday.

Lawyers for Animal Rights said Muhammad Yoges Balaraman, 35, who police said had been receiving treatment for mental health issues for the past three years, should have been committed to a mental health care facility for treatment.

The accused, who was filmed hanging his dog on a tree in Banting on May 6, was taken away to serve his 12-month jail sentence at the Kajang Prison, a report said.

Yoges, who was unrepresented, had pleaded guilty to causing unnecessary pain or suffering to his dog under Section 29(1)(e) of the Animal Welfare Act 2015, an offence punishable by a maximum fine of RM100,000 or up to three years’ imprisonment.

The Department of Veterinary Services prosecuted the case at the Sepang Sessions Court, but neither they nor the Banting Hospital could confirm the nature of Yoges’ mental health issues.

“The proper course of action here would be to send him to be committed to a mental health care facility for proper treatment,” Lawyers for Animals Rights’ Rajesh Nagarajan said.

Muhammad Rafique Rashid Ali, deputy co-chair of the Bar Council’s criminal law committee, said that in cases where an accused is suspected to be of unsound mind, the magistrate or judge should ascertain whether the person possessed the mental capacity to understand the charge read out to them.

He said the court was duty-bound to send an accused for mental evaluation if the police said he had been receiving mental treatment.

“The evaluation is whether at the time of the alleged offence, the accused possessed the mental capacity to understand that what he was doing was wrong or an offence,” he said.

However, a psychiatrist said that only a small fraction of the 200 known mental illnesses can be taken into consideration when reaching a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity.

Philip George, a consultant at Assunta Hospital in Petaling Jaya, said Yoges’ mental illness “did not appear to be serious or was one that would dismiss him from sentencing”.

“He could make decisions and plead guilty, so he was in touch with reality,” said George, who also heads the psychiatry department at the International Medical University.

“But if he suffers from a serious illness such as being delusional, hearing voices or thinking that the dog was the devil, he might have been acquitted due to mental illness.”

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