KUALA LUMPUR: Loved ones and associates of missing pastor Raymond Koh gathered today to commemorate 1000 days since his abduction, in what has been deemed an enforced disappearance.
Former ambassador Dennis Ignatius raised questions over the role of religious establishments in Koh’s disappearance, stating that Koh and three other people also missing had had run-ins with the law over religious reasons.
Ignatius posed the possibility that “the religious establishment” and police had colluded and turned to extrajudicial actions to deal with those they suspected to be involved in activities harmful to national security.
“At the end of the day, the only likely conclusion we can draw, ugly as it may be, is that agents of the state, quite possibly acting with the tacit approval of the religious establishment, abducted and very likely murdered some of them.
“In other words, this was no rogue operation but part of a well-planned and well-executed campaign against troublesome religious workers,” he said at the Pastor Raymond Koh 1000 Days Remembrance gathering here today.
Koh was abducted from his car by a group of more than 10 men on Feb 13, 2017 two months after welfare activist Amri Che Mat, founder of the Perlis Hope organisation, went missing.
Amri had been alleged to be propagating Shia Islam while Koh was investigated by Islamic authorities for allegedly attempting to convert Muslims when they hosted a party with Muslim attendees at a church.
Two others missing are Pastor Joshua Hilmy, a Malay Muslim who converted to Christianity, and his wife Ruth Sitepu, who were last seen on Nov 30, 2016.
Ignatius expressed disappointment in the Pakatan Harapan government for its handling of the case, adding that he too, like many others, had placed high hopes that the new administration would be able to shed light into the case.
He said PH had failed to fulfil its rhetoric and had acted in the same “insincerity, deceit and disingenuity” as the Barisan Nasional government when it came to the disappearances.
“Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad himself set the tone for this indifference to injustice when he dismissed the Suhakam findings on enforced disappearances as mere ‘hearsay.’
“So much for his oft-repeated claim that his administration would be committed to the rule of law,” said Ignatius, who last served as high commissioner to Canada before retiring after 36 years in the foreign service.
Koh’s wife, Susanna Liew, shared her disappointment on the special task force that was formed to investigate the finding by Suhakam, the human rights commission, that the Special Branch had a hand in the enforced disappearances.
She said the task force had called her up for questioning, and also associates of her husband. She said she was interrogated about funds deposited into Koh’s accounts and she was requested to provide photocopies of bank statements.
“I told them these questions were not relevant to finding Raymond. You should be investigating the enemies; the ones who sent him a death threat and two bullets.
“Instead the police denied that they were focusing on investigating proselytisation. So why call the family up? I’ve already answered all these questions.
“And my question is: are they using the task force to intimidate the family and to criminalise pastor Raymond Koh?”
Liew said she was moved by how Malaysians of all walks of faith and race had stood with her family during this difficult time, adding that it showed her how united Malaysia could be.
Marhalem Mansor, co-founder and manager of Rumah Teduhan Harapan, told the audience of how Koh had deeply touched him with his humility and love, despite being an HIV patient.
On the brink of tears, Marhalem said Koh was the one who had sparked the idea to start the home which takes in HIV patients, speaking of a car ride he shared with the pastor in 2004.
“No doubt he’s my leader, but he is also my brother, a father figure, a mentor and grandfather to my children. Until today my children, with the youngest now 10, still asks when uncle Raymond will come to our house again.
“There’s nothing in common between Koh and me and my family. But because of his humility and servanthood, he embraced us wholeheartedly,” he said.
Deputy Women, Family and Community Development Minister Hannah Yeoh, Subang MP Wong Chen and Human Rights Commission of Malaysia commissioner Mah Weng Kwai also attended the event, along with other members of civil society.
In April, a Suhakam panel concluded that Koh and Amri were victims of enforced disappearance. “The panel is of the considered view that the enforced disappearance of Amri was carried out by agents of the state, namely the Special Branch, Bukit Aman,” Suhakam said.
“The disappearance of pastor Raymond Koh was neither a case of voluntary disappearance nor a case of involuntary disappearance in breach of the ordinary criminal law. “The directive and circumstantial evidence in Koh’s case also proves that he was abducted by the Special Branch,” the Suhakam panel had said.