A day of shame for Malaysia

Today is International Day for Victims of Enforced Disappearances.

Last year, to observe the day, Citizens Against Enforced Disappearances (CAGED) hosted a regional conference on enforced disappearances. We invited the foreign minister to give the keynote speech at a hotel in Kuala Lumpur to 120 attendees.

We did so because while he was in the Global Movement of Moderates funded by the Najib government and again, soon after he became foreign minister in the “New Malaysia”, he made noise about Malaysia ratifying international covenants including ICERD, the International Convention On the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

We hoped that under him, Malaysia would be the second-last of the 57 Organization of Islamic Countries to ratify ICERD – presently, only Malaysia and Brunei have not ratified the treaty. We hoped that under him, Malaysia would also ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances.

We hoped Malaysia would stop being a left-behind state. We hoped Malaysia would move into the ranks of enlightened nations which give more than lip-service to justice.

Saifuddin didn’t even bother to reply to us, neither did he make any statement about the day. We expect he will remain similarly silent this year.

His silence is remarkable since Malaysia, this year, joined the ranks of certified police states – states in which the government reserves the right to abduct and disappear “inconvenient persons”.

Malaysia joined the ranks of Argentina, Chile and Israel when, on April 3, the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia or Suhakam concluded its 18-month inquiry into the disappearances of social activist Amri Che Mat and Pastor Raymond Koh with a damning conclusion.

The Suhakam inquiry panel, comprising a retired judge of the Court of Appeal (Mah Weng Kwai) and two law professors (Aishah Bidin and Nik Salida Suhaila binti Nik Saleh), wrote:

“The direct and circumstantial evidence… proves, on a balance of probabilities, that [Amri Che Mat and Raymond Koh were] abducted by state agents namely, the Special Branch, Bukit Aman, Kuala Lumpur.”

In March, our Cabinet dispatched the minister for religious affairs to Christchurch, New Zealand, to commiserate with the survivors of the brutal killings of members of a tiny minority, in two mosques. The minister even held a “peace rally” in KL in response to the Christchurch shootings. The de facto leader of PKR, “the Justice Party”, tabled an emergency motion in Parliament to debate the Christchurch shootings by a lone actor.

In April, our Cabinet disdained from even expressing shock at the abduction and disappearance, by the state, of an alleged Shiite social activist and a Christian pastor, under the previous government. Our prime minister brushed off Suhakam’s conclusion as “based on hearsay”.

To date, the Cabinet has not acted on the recommendation of Suhakam to appoint investigators to do the basic investigative work which the police failed to do in these two cases. The original investigating officers apparently continue to have charge of the cases.

Instead, the home minister has appointed a bogus task force with no published terms of reference and two members who have conflicts of interest. Appointees to the bogus task force even include a person who represented the police at the inquiry. Unlike the other two members, this member responded honourably to public clamour. He withdrew.

Worse, the bogus task force appears complicit in a bogus claim included in an appeal released by the police this week.

In the statement, the police claim Suhakam accused the police of not cooperating with the inquiry because one Saiful Bahari, a civilian employee of the police, failed to give evidence at the inquiry.

In truth, the investigating officer in Amri’s case was cornered into disclosing the identity of Saiful after a police whistleblower revealed that Saiful worked for the police in Kuala Lumpur. The police even admitted to having approved an absurdly large number of leave days for Saiful in 2017 and gave conflicting testimonies about what work Saiful did for them. Saiful worked for the police for 18 years.

Multiple cases of misconduct of police officers were indicated during the inquiry, including the fabrication of evidence and making of false police reports. Yet the police disciplinary authority appears to have taken no action against any of the complicit officers.

Suhakam’s scope was restricted to the disappearances of those named in the inquiry’s terms of reference. We know others have disappeared in Malaysia, including Turkish nationals whose “return” to Turkey by Malaysia has been publicly announced by the Turkish authorities.

So, we have a government which either appreciates the extra-judicial work of the police or chooses to be in denial about enforced disappearances in Malaysia while clamouring for the safety of minorities in other nations.

Today is a day of shame for Malaysia. Will it remain so next year?

Citizens Against Enforced Disappearances (CAGED) is a civil society group.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.