Malaysian reporter denied entry into Defence Ministry over dress that showed her knees

KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The Star reporter Tashny Sukumaran was on assignment at Malaysia's Defence Ministry recently when she was denied entry into the premises. She was told that she had violated the dress code, which the ministry backed in a statement issued on Friday.

The incident came amid criticisms over earlier reported cases where women were asked to cover up at other government offices and a hospital.

Here's what Ms Sukumaran says about her encounter:

"I went to the Defence Ministry (Mindef) in Ampang to cover a presentation of Hari Raya goodies to the armed forces by the Prime Minister's wife, an event that was also attended by the Defence Minister and his deputy.

I was dressed in a simple black-and-white piece with short sleeves and a hemline that ended just above my knees.

Despite what I thought to be decent attire, I was denied entry at the guardhouse.

At the counter to register my vehicle, an official told me to step back several times.

I took a few small steps back until he told me: "Please step back further, I need to see what you are wearing."

He then said I would not be allowed in because my knees were showing.

I protested by saying that I had covered Mindef events before, wearing both casual clothes such as T-shirts as well as in similar dresses, but the protest was to no avail.

I also told him that I was a reporter and needed to get in to cover the event. He and a female staff member said they would check with the officials inside the building.

They returned to say there was no response and instructed me to sit down and wait.

At this point, another military policeman politely "assessed" my outfit, saying that I had violated the dress code.

I said there should be consistency when enforcing the dress code, not as and when they like.

As I didn't want to miss my assignment, I went to retrieve a long skirt that was kept in my car for precisely this reason - overzealous dress code enforcers.

Then another officer remarked: "See, Miss, you look nice like this as well."

I found the comment unprofessional.

I later raised the issue with the deputy minister, who laughed it off.

I couldn't help thinking: if people meant to defend the nation can become so distracted by a pair of kneecaps, then our country is in trouble."

However, the Malaysian Defence Ministry said in a statement on Friday that the strict dress code at the ministry headquarters applies to all parties, not only to reporters.

"A notice on the proper dress code is shown at the guard station. If a visitor does not follow it, then they will not be allowed to enter," it said.

The Ministry said that the reporter, who had a long skirt in her car, violated the dress code by wearing a dress that showed her knees.

"The dress code has been in force for a long time and we hope that everyone, including the media, adhere to it when visiting the ministry," said the statement.