Screenshot of a hug at a K-pop band concert in Malaysia

Screenshot of a hug at a K-pop band concert in Malaysia

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When is hugging a crime?

Well, when it comes to K-pop boy bands, concerts and Malaysia, more than hearts are a-flutter.

Authorities in the majority Muslim country have ordered an investigation into a group of female fans of K-pop boy band B1A4 for alleged "indecent" public acts in violation of the Syariah code of conduct after members of the band hugged and kissed them on the forehead last month.

The pop stars had been re-enacting scenes from a popular Korean soap opera with the young women onstage. The organizers said the fans were selected randomly and gave their consent repeatedly, but one Malaysian TV channel posted a YouTube video of the event with a headline that accused the band of having "molested Muslim girls."

The investigation focused on whether the re-enacting violated a provision that states "indecent manner in any public place is liable to a fine or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months. Malaysian officials have admitted that there was no legal basis for sentencing the girls to prison and they could only issue them a warning.

South Korean news outlets picked up the story, especially after a tweet by Malaysia&'s youth and sports minister went viral.

A lot has been said about K-pop. I hope Malaysian girls return to tall, dark handsome men. Not pale, skinny and pretty [like K-pop stars]. Those are not real men.

The case opened a heated debate online among Koreans over the incident. Many expressed disbelief at the notion that being hugged by a singer could be punishable by law in Malaysia, while others accused the organizers of insensitivity to the religious and cultural norms there.

While watching the B1A4 fan meeting fiasco, is it only me who almost expected to see something like this happen due to people&'s ignorance of southeast Asia? What if these girls receive heavy punishment like a whipping or something heavier than a jail term?

One thing that surprised me most about this whole B1A4 Malaysia controversy was the fact that Malaysia is an Islamic country — which made me realize how shallow my understanding is of other cultural regions.

On the Nate Pann site, a popular South Korean online venue, "Heu" commented:

애초부터 이슬람 국가에서 저런 내용의 행사 자체를 기획한 주최측이 문제지

It's actually the organizer who is to be blamed for this fiasco for coming up with this idea in an Islamic country.​

K-pop fans discussed the incident on various sites dedicated to the music genre. On one of the biggest K-pop sites, Soompi, users remarked:

tdjunlimited: i don't blame the girl…i definitely not blaming my boys B1A4. this fanmeeting thing is normal and hugging and the kiss (member Baro kissed the girl&'s forehead coz it&'s her birthday that day) happened everywhere in the world and no one talks about it. evn muslim populated countries like istanbul is more likely to tolerate such things. the one to blame are the ones making this whole issue get blown out of proportion..those people on facebook who headline their page "islam girls molested/harrassed by kpop group B1A4"...

Zurra Yasmin Shamsul Kamar: its okay. i'm a muslim and a malaysian and i didn't blame b1a4 in this issue. it was clearly the muslim girls’ fault because they are muslims and they should know better what is allowed and what isn't allowed in their religion and culture.

sujin.cho: I'm not exactly blaming the girl, but she should have been more responsible. But you can't blame a teenager and especially one who is a girl in front of her idol :P [...]

This article was adapted from a post on Global Voices Online.

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