Two Russians have been arrested in Malaysia over a street performance that involved swinging a baby by the legs and throwing it up into the air.
Police are questioning the pair over alleged abuse of the 4-month-old girl, authorities told news agency AFP.
The couple, who are from Russia and in their late 20s, were arrested on Feb. 4 while in the middle of another performance at Bukit Bintang, a shopping-and-clubbing district in the Malaysian capital that is popular with Westerners.
Kuala Lumpur Police Chief Datuk Seri Mazlan Lazim was cited by local media as saying the detained Russians were busking for money to cover the costs of traveling across Southeast Asia, in a phenomenon pejoratively labeled “begpacking.”
“The activity is to raise funds to cover their expenses for traveling. The same thing happened when they were in Thailand,” the police chief told a press conference Monday.
Lazim added that the couple was arrested while they were performing in the Malaysian capital, following public outcry over the treatment of the child.
‘Performance’ Footage Goes Viral
Footage of one of the couple’s performances has gone viral over the past days, prompting the police to proceed with the arrest.
The footage was uploaded by Kuala Lumpur resident Zayl Chia Abdulla, who said in the post he witnessed the event personally.
In the 90-second video, a barefoot, bearded man is seen swinging and waving a diaper-clad baby around, while a woman sits on the ground beside him gesticulating and shaking a hand cymbal. The dark-haired woman chants and swoons, and a sign beside her indicates the group was seeking donations. The partially obscured sign reads, “we are traveling around the world,” and the words “music” and “donations” are visible.
The baby does not appear to be visibly upset by the rough treatment and none of the onlookers intervene, though a voice can be heard saying in Malay, “Stupid, how can you do that?”
“I happen to pass by this area in Bukit Bintang and I saw this irresponsible act that can literally cause injury to that poor baby,” Abdulla wrote in the post. “Why is the authority allowing such act to be showcase to public. These street performers need to be arrested! Please do something.”
A blond-haired woman can also be seen in the video stomping in rhythm with the music. She was caught in a subsequent video—later posted by Abdulla—carrying what appeared to be the same child in a baby sling.
The Facebook post has been viewed more than 28,000 times and has sparked a flurry of comments.
‘We Call it Cossack Gymnastics’
One commenter identified as Daria Kalinkevich defended the couple’s baby gymnastics, saying that it’s common practice in Russia and makes babies strong.
“Dear friends here is nothing worse! we train our children from birth and we know perfectly well what to do. that’s why Russians are so strong,” she wrote and posted a video of a woman swinging a baby around.
“When our kids grow up they are ready to swim and go to playground and there they will not broke neck because they are strong and they pretty well can control their body,” Kalinkevich wrote in defense of the practice.
She added, “We call it Cossack gymnastics.”
The controversial Russian practice of baby dynamics yoga, or baby swinging yoga, has been featured on Russian channel Russia Today. Some activists and medical professionals, however, have argued the exercises put children at great risk and amount to child abuse.
“Daria Kalinkevich i dont care what its called it sure as hell looks dangerous so stop justifying dangerous acts involving infants,” retorted Khaliff Noor Roslizam.
Another commenter said the issue wasn’t child training, but possible exploitation of an infant in a risky street act.
“We (Malaysian) are talking about the exploitation of the baby as a street performer in this video and why no action taken for these illegal street performers. That is what u must focus on, Most of us got no problem with cossack gymnastic or whatsoever. and for your information, we (Malaysian and Asian) also have our own way of training and teaching our youth and offspring, not only to be strong but also to be a good human.”
Facebook said it had not taken it down because “it may help with rescuing the child in question,” according to the BBC.
The video can still be viewed online but with a warning that it “may show violence against a child or teenager.”
The police chief told reporters that the Russian Embassy had been notified about the detention.
“We have informed the Russian Embassy to ensure the welfare of the baby following the arrest of her parents,” he said.