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Miss Universe cuts ties with Indonesian organizer as sexual harassment allegations swirl

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JAKARTA, Indonesia — The Miss Universe Organization has cut its ties with its Indonesian franchisee and will cancel an upcoming pageant in Malaysia after contestants complained to police, accusing local organizers of sexual harassment.

The New York-based organization said in a statement late Saturday it had decided to sever ties with PT Capella Swastika Karya, and its National Director, Poppy Capella.

Six contestants of a Miss Universe Indonesia pageant recently filed complaints with police, accusing local organizers of asking them to strip to their underwear for “body checks” for scars or cellulite, in a room with about two dozen people present, including men. Five of the contestants said they were then photographed topless.

“In light of what we have learned took place at Miss Universe Indonesia, it has become clear that this franchise has not lived up to our brand standards and ethics,” the Miss Universe Organization said on the social media site X, formerly known as Twitter.

The organization also said it would be cancelling this year’s Miss Universe Malaysia as the Indonesian franchisee also holds the license for the pageant. It said it would make arrangements for the Indonesia 2023 title holder to compete in Miss Universe pageant to be held in El Salvador late this year.

The Miss Universe Indonesia pageant was held from July 29 to Aug. 3 to choose Indonesia’s representative to the 2023 Miss Universe contest, and was won by Fabienne Nicole Groeneveld.

PT Capella Swastika Karya is an Indonesian beauty company which took over the license for Miss Universe Indonesia in March from Yayasan Putri Indonesia or YPI, an Indonesian foundation that held the license for 30 years.

The company founder, Poppy Capella, denied her involvement in the physical examination during the contest and said that she is against any kind of “violence and sexual harassment.”

“I, as the National Director and as the owner of the Miss Universe Indonesia license, was not involved at all and have never known, ordered, requested or allowed anyone who played a role and participated in the Miss Universe Indonesia 2023 process to commit violence or sexual harassment through body checking,” she posted on social media late Saturday.

Hengki Haryadi, the Jakarta police director for general crimes, said Sunday that during a Miss Universe Indonesia pageant held in the capital, Jakarta, from July 29 to Aug. 3, the victims were forced to remove their clothes and were photographed naked for physical examination in a hotel ballroom.

“These victims feel forced to take off their clothes and pose inappropriately for body checking that traumatized them,” Haryadi said.

He added that police are still examining surveillance cameras from the scene. Investigators will interview the victims and provide psychological assistance, he said.

In its statement Saturday, the Miss Universe Organization said there are no measurements such as height, weight, or body dimensions required to join a Miss Universe pageant worldwide, and thanked the Indonesian contestants “who have bravery in speaking out.”

“To the women who came forward from the Indonesian pageant, we are sorry that this was your experience with our organization,” it said, adding that they are also evaluating their current franchise agreement and policies to prevent this type of conduct from occurring in the future worldwide.

Controversy over the pageant has been mounting in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation, which has a reputation as a tolerant, pluralist society that respects freedom of expression. Most Muslims in Indonesia, a secular country of 277 million people, are moderate, but a small hard-line fringe has become more vocal in recent years.

In 2013, several conservative Muslim groups staged a massive protest against Miss World competition in Indonesia, prompted the contest moved from Jakarta to the resort island of Bali, and all of the more than 130 contestants required to wear Bali’s traditional long sarongs instead of the sexy bikinis that are historical part of the competition.

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