Tania Billingsley: No regrets about speaking out
The woman at the centre of the Malaysian diplomat scandal stands by her decision to go public despite criticism a television interview last week could prejudice her alleged sex attacker's right to a fair trial.
Tania Billingsley, who applied to have name suppression lifted so she could appear on TV3's current affairs show 3rd Degree, yesterday said she stood by her decision but was now "taking a break". She had limited access to the internet and subsequent commentary around her decision to face a camera before any case against her alleged attacker was brought to trial.
"The people that are getting so obsessed with it [the interview] aren't listening to what I'm saying, and what I said in my interview, and are not looking at the bigger picture which is where I'm coming from," she said.
Muhammad Rizalman bin Ismail, a former staff member at the Malaysian High Commission, was arrested on May 9 and charged with burglary and assault with intent to rape after allegedly following Billingsley home.
He was subsequently allowed to invoke diplomatic immunity and returned to Malaysia. It emerged Minister of Foreign Affairs Murray McCully was aware of the case, but had not followed it up further with staff.
Billingsley has now called for the minister's resignation telling 3rd Degree journalist Paula Penfold, "I guess, clearly that he doesn't know how to do his job properly. And also, you know . . . he obviously doesn't take sexual assault as a serious thing to consider."
Bloggers, media commentators and legal experts have questioned Billingsley's decision to speak to the media.
Law Society president Chris Moore told Newstalk ZB that even if the interview did not go into detail about the alleged incident, "any reports that are sympathetic to one party, have got the potential to be unfair to another and I think, even though they weren't talking about the case, everyone knew what the case was".
Penfold said Billingsley had "very good reasons" for speaking out. They included the handling of her case at official and government level and whether that reflected a wider cultural problem in New Zealand. She also wanted to take a moment to express her feelings for the accused's family.
"The handling of her case has been discussed by everybody from the Prime Minister down, and I think that anyone who would suggest that she's the only person who doesn't have a right to express her views about it, is misguided. Frankly, that's just ludicrous."
Producer Eugene Bingham said, "We were very careful not to deal with anything pertaining to the facts of the case itself.
And there have been plenty of other cases - Louise Nicholas for instance - that was a similar case, where she was interviewed extensively prior to trials."
Bingham said TV3's in-house lawyer was consulted, and Billingsley met with Wellington lawyer Peter McKnight "at length" before the interview screened.
He said there was no political motivation behind Billingsley's desire to speak.
"What is unusual here is that we don't often see people in sexual violence cases coming forward and putting a face to these cases that are usually in the dark and in the shadows. And maybe in her doing that, that's what's made people uncomfortable."
An inquiry into MFAT's handling of the case has been launched.
Sunday Star Times