KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's human rights commission Suhakam said it will proceed with a public hearing on the disappearances of a Malay Christian pastor, his wife, and a social activist, a day after abruptly halting a separate inquiry into missing pastor Raymond Koh.
The cases of the four missing Malaysians are closely watched because police have been unable to provide answers on their whereabouts after months of investigations.
There is also some concern among non-Muslim minority groups that the missing persons could have been abducted by Muslim vigilantes amid the rise of an intolerant strain of Islam in Malaysia.
Suhakam's hearing on Mr Koh was stopped on Tuesday (Jan 16) after police told the commission that the case has become a legal issue for a court to decide, after a suspect was charged in the pastor's case.
Mr Koh was abducted in Petaling Jaya on Feb 13, 2017.
Social activist Amri Che Mat, founder of non-profit organisation Perlis Hope, was allegedly abducted on Nov 24, 2016. His vehicle was found abandoned nearby.
There has been media speculation that he was promoting Shi'ite ideology, a branch of Islam that conservative Malaysian Muslims reject. Mr Amri's wife has denied the alleged link to Shi'ism.
Mr Joshua Hilmy and his wife Ruth were reported missing by a close friend on March 6, 2017.
"The next hearing date is scheduled for Jan 22. We will look into the circumstances of Amri Che Mat's disappearance," said Suhakam commissioner and panel chief Mah Weng Kwai.
"There will be a different set of witnesses on Monday for the case," he told a news press conference on Wednesday.
Mr Koh's wife Susanna Koh on Wednesday issued a statement to say she is disappointed that the hearing on Mr Koh had to be stopped.
But if the suspect is indeed someone linked to the kidnapping, "then the whole world will be watching this case very closely to scrutinise what the police will do about this going forward".
The four missing individuals have been the subject of a hearing from October by the rights commission.
Suhakam in recent weeks had been focusing on police investigations into Mr Koh's case.
The 11-day inquiry had revealed details of the kidnapping, which witnesses said appeared to be executed in minutes with professional precision.
Closed-circuit television footage believed to be from the scene of the incident showed half a dozen men in balaclavas using black SUVs to block Mr Koh's car on a public road in Petaling Jaya in broad daylight.
Suhakam chairman Rozali Ismail on Wednesday dismissed claims that the hearing on Mr Koh was halted due to "caving in to the police".
"That's not true… We need to respect the law. We are not caving in to the police. We will proceed with the other inquiries," he said.
Datuk Seri Mah said Suhakam is bound by Section 12 of the Human Rights Commission Act 1999, which legally bars it from probing matters that are pending in court.
The move to stop the hearing on Mr Koh has sparked a public backlash, including from civil society coalition Observers from the Citizens Against Enforced Disappearances.
It labelled the arrest and charge against 31-year-old Lam Chang Nam for kidnapping Mr Koh as "shocking, illogical and begs belief".
Former Uber driver Lam is claiming trial to extorting money from Mr Koh's son last year after the family revealed to the public a phone number in an effort to seek information.
Lam was originally charged with extorting in March 2017, a sum of RM30,000 (S$10,000) from Mr Koh's son Jonathan Koh Szu Hao, 33, to release his father.
Lam had then been cleared by the police from being involved in the abduction.
Malaysia's police chief Mohamad Fuzi Harun in a statement on Tuesday said Lam was charged at the magistrates court under Section 365 of the Penal Code for kidnapping.
"Investigations are still ongoing and we have found a new lead that associates Lam with Koh's abduction," the statement read.
Tan Sri Fuzi said the hunt is still on for seven others still at large who are linked to the case.