Malaysia names task force members to probe 'sensitive' disappearances of pastor, Muslim activist

Christian pastor Raymond Koh and Perlis Hope co-founder Amri Che Mat have been missing since February 2017 and November 2016 respectively. PHOTOS: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK, NSTP

KUALA LUMPUR - Former High Court judge Abd Rahim Uda will lead a six-man task force to probe the findings by Malaysia's Human Rights Commission (Suhakam), which concluded that police's intelligence department was directly involved in the alleged enforced disappearances of a Christian pastor and a Muslim man suspected of spreading Shi'ite beliefs in the country.

Members of the task force were introduced on Wednesday (June 26) by Home Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, The Star online news reported.

"We at the ministry view the report in a serious manner as it throws serious allegations against the police to the extent that it has created a negative perception of the force who are entrusted to keep the peace," Tan Sri Muhyiddin was quoted as saying by Malay Mail online news on Wednesday (June 26).

"The task force will investigate whether the police Special Branch was indeed involved but of course, beyond that, we would also like to find the real truth on the whole thing," he told a news conference.

One of the missing men is Pastor Raymond Koh, the founder of Harapan Komuniti non-governmental organisation (NGO) and who has been accused of trying to convert Muslims.

He was believed to have been abducted by a group of men in Petaling Jaya on Feb 13, 2017, while on his way to a friend's house.

The other missing man is Mr Amri Che Mat, co-founder of Perlis Hope NGO.

The Muslim social activist went missing on Nov 24, 2016, after leaving his home in Kangar, Perlis at about 11.30pm.

The issue involving their disappearances is sensitive in Malaysia amid claims they were abducted by the authorities. The incidents also raised concerns about rising religious intolerance in Malaysia.

Islamic authorities in the country, which has a Sunni Muslim majority, bans the conversion of Malaysian Muslims to Christians or Shi'ism.

The previous Barisan Nasional government had stonewalled queries by family members on the whereabouts of Mr Koh and Mr Amri, or whether the government had a hand in their disappearances.

The Pakatan Harapan government's special task force was formed by the Cabinet last month.

This followed a verdict by Suhakam in April, after a year-long public inquiry, that the Special Branch police was likely behind their disappearances.

An enforced disappearance means the arrest, detention or abduction of a person by agents of the state, after which the person's fate or whereabouts are concealed.

The commission also found that both men were abducted victims due to their religious activities.

Mr Muhyiddin added that the task force will be given six months to complete its probe and submit a report, which then will be presented to the Cabinet for further action.

"I expect to get a report on their findings in six months, and leave it to them to determine who is to be called in the process of their investigation," the minister said.

Five other members of the task force are police's former director of legal department Mokhtar Mohd Noor; police's Integrity and Standards Compliance Department director Zamri Yahya; Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission director Muhammad Bukhari Ab Hamid; legal officer at the public prosecution division of the Attorney-General's Chambers Mohd Sophian Zakaria; and secretary at the Police Force Commission for the Home Affairs Ministry Mohd Russaini Idrus.

After the Suhakam findings were released, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said then police chief Mohamad Fuzi Harun would be allowed to retire first before his successor is appointed to look into the allegations.

Meanwhile, the families of Mr Koh and Mr Amri have raised questions over the appointments of the six men in the taskforce.

The Koh family said in a statement that there were no women in the task force and that it does not reflect the multiracial composition of Malaysia, The Star daily reported.

The family said previous suggestions on the group's composition were not taken into account, such as including a member of the Bar Council, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission and a representative from a non-governmental organisation.

Amri's wife, Norhayati Mohd Ariffin, also expressed her concern, with the task force comprising several senior policemen.

She noted that this will impact the independence and impartiality necessary for a credible investigation.

"We note that Datuk Mokhtar Mohd Noor, the former head of Bukit Aman's (federal police) Legal Division, is a member of this task force. This is the same division that was implicated in the flawed investigation into Amri's abduction and later, in the team representing (police) during the Suhakam inquiry," she said.

"As such, Mokhtar is clearly an interested party and so, represents a conflict of interest," she said.

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