It’s not a witch-hunt but cops must prove innocence, Suhakam says on findings

PETALING JAYA: The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) has sought to diffuse possible tension with the police following the damning findings of an inquiry this week pointing the finger at Bukit Aman for the disappearances of two men.

Mah Weng Kwai, who chaired the year-long inquiry into the disappearances of Amri Che Mat and Pastor Raymond Koh, assured the police that Suhakam was not out on a witch-hunt against the force.

“No, this is not about us against them,” Mah told a current affairs programme on Astro Awani last night.

“I am talking about the rule of law and justice, what is right for the families and the disappeared persons.”

He said the burden is on the authorities to prove the police were innocent.

“Please come and convince us that there is absolutely nothing wrong on your part. We will all be happy.

“I will be the first to admit we have made a mistake.”

Suhakam declared Koh and Amri victims of “enforced disappearances” on Wednesday, blaming Bukit Aman’s Special Branch for their abductions after its inquiry which heard testimonies from some 40 witnesses.

Pressure has since been mounting for action against top police officers including outgoing Inspector-General of Police Mohamad Fuzi Harun, who headed the Special Branch when the abductions took place.

Koh was abducted on Feb 13, 2017, in Petaling Jaya, while Amri went missing on Nov 24, 2016, after leaving his home.

Koh’s abduction was caught on CCTV which showed what looked like professionally trained men stopping his car on a busy street. However, the police strongly denied suggestions that it was carried out by their men.

Mah, a former judge, said this was the first time he had come across cases of enforced disappearances throughout his many years in the judiciary and legal service.

“This is something which happened very recently, and what is very striking is that within the time span of three months, we had three different cases of four people who have gone missing and nobody knows where they are,” he said, referring to two other missing persons – Pastor Joshua Hilmy and his wife, Ruth.

Mah said Malaysia does not have laws to deal with enforced disappearances.

One recommendation from Suhakam is for Malaysia to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED).

“Another recommendation is to amend local laws because right now, the laws that govern abductions are in the Penal Code, and if an abduction involves demand for ransom, it becomes kidnap, which then falls under the Kidnapping Act.

“But there is no provision under local laws for something like this (enforced disappearances),” he said.

Mah again defended the inquiry findings, saying they were based on evidence, whether direct or circumstantial.

“There was talk about hearsay evidence. This was not something that was not noticed or not considered. It was very much in the forefront of our discussion,” he said.

Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, while assuring that the government would not interfere in follow-up action related to the Suhakam findings, had suggested that the inquiry’s conclusion was based on hearsay.

But Mah said this was deliberate.

“When we have an inquiry under the Suhakam Act, Section 14 allows us a little bit more latitude. We are not constrained by the law under the Evidence Act,” he said.

“In cases of enforced disappearances, it is always a case of a lot of concealment. It is not easy to get direct evidence of people coming forward to say this is exactly what happened.

“This is not an ordinary disappearance, because our findings were clear that it was not a voluntary disappearance or involuntary disappearance. It was enforced disappearance, where there is the unseen hand of the state or agents of the state,” he added.