KUALA LUMPUR: The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia’s (Suhakam) public inquiry into missing couple Joshua Hilmy and Ruth Sitepu has held that they are victims of enforced disappearance.
However, it said it did not find evidence that the pastor and his wife were abducted by “agents of the state”.
Suhakam commissioner Mohd Hishamudin Yunus, who chaired the inquiry, said their disappearance was carried out by “a person or more than a person unknown with acquiescence of the authorities”.
“Their involuntary disappearance breached the laws of Malaysia,” the former judge said when delivering the inquiry’s decision today.
“However, (although) we did not find evidence that they were abducted by agents of the state, yet the authorities failed to investigate the case ‘diligently and seriously’ (and) had hampered the progress (of the investigation),” he said.
Joshua, a Malay who converted to Christianity, and his Indonesian wife Ruth were last seen on Nov 30, 2016 at their Petaling Jaya home.
Hishamudin pointed out that police had failed to prioritise missing persons’ cases like Joshua and Ruth’s, and did not look into the couple’s case thoroughly.
“The IO (investigating officer) testified that Joshua had been investigated for sedition for insulting Prophet Muhammad on Facebook in 2014. Groups such as Perkasa had lodged reports against him.
“We note that there were no efforts by the IO to revisit the Facebook post, which we find strange as the police should have investigated it to find any leads that might be useful in the couple’s disappearance.
“Even though some pertinent information was found during the early stage, it was not taken seriously by police and no danger alert was triggered.
“We are of the view that the lack of interest and seriousness by police in appreciating the severity of the case, treating it as a normal missing persons case, reflects the failure of the police to prioritise the case,” he said.
Hishamudin also criticised the police’s lack of speed in commencing the investigation.
“The couple’s friend Peter Pormannan lodged a report at the Klang police station in March 2017 after he couldn’t find them.
“The IO only recorded Peter’s statement one month later. As a responsible IO, it is crucial for him to act immediately at the early stage to gather as much information as possible,” he said.
The panel also found that police tried to “suppress” Joshua and Ruth’s case from the Indonesian embassy.
“According to Ruth’s brother Imam Sitepu’s testimony, he said the IO told him not to report Ruth’s disappearance to the embassy.
“We are of the view that the IO tried to suppress this case from the knowledge of other agencies and the public,” Hishamudin added.
He also said police never updated Ruth’s family on the status of the investigation, as required under the Criminal Procedure Code.
“Although Iman did not make a specific request, it is incumbent on the police to inform the family of the progress,” Hishamudin said.
Fellow commissioners Jerald Joseph and Madeline Berma assisted Hishamudin in the inquiry, which was held from Feb 10, 2020 to Jan 22 this year. A total of 26 witnesses assisted the inquiry.
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