Malaysian police behind disappearance of activists: Human rights commission

Malaysia's human rights commission has concluded that the country's police were behind the disappearance of a Christian pastor and a Muslim social activist, after a public inquiry that took over a year to complete.

According to the commission's decision released yesterday, the two men, Mr Raymond Koh, 64, and Mr Amri Che Mat, 45, remain missing after an "enforced disappearance carried out by the Special Branch", the police's intelligence unit.

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, known by its Malay acronym Suhakam, also found that both men were victims of enforced disappearance due to their religious activities.

Mr Koh has been missing since Feb 13, 2017, when he was abducted from his car in Kelana Jaya, Selangor. Meanwhile, Mr Amri was last seen on Nov 24, 2016, in the northern state of Perlis.

The police, who had given evidence during Suhakam's inquiry, were absent when the panel released its findings.

Responding to the findings, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said national police chief Mohamad Fuzi Harun will be allowed to retire first before his replacement is appointed to look into Suhakam's allegations, reported The Star.

"He was then the Special Branch officer (head)... We will let him retire first and then we will have another IGP who will conduct an investigation (on his involvement)," said Dr Mahathir, referring to the Inspector-General of Police.

The inquiry panel's chairman, Mr Mah Weng Kwai, a former judge, said the manner in which both men were reportedly abducted pointed to enforced disappearances. "The panel is of the view that the modus operandi of the disappearances of pastor Raymond Koh and Amri Che Mat bore uncanny similarities," said Mr Mah.

According to eyewitness accounts, both men were abducted after the vehicles they were driving were boxed in by three other cars. Both men's car windows were smashed, and a gold-coloured Toyota Vios was present during both incidents. The Toyota was found to be owned by a Mr Saiful Bahari from the Special Branch, who remains uncontactable.

The police have insisted that the two disappearances were unrelated. According to them, Mr Amri had likely fled his home due to bad debts or a secret marriage, while Mr Koh's abduction was linked to an arms smuggling gang.

However, Mr Mah said the panel found the reasons given by the police to be "full of inconsistencies", to the point that they even defied "common sense and logic".

Mr Koh's disappearance had gripped the country after a video, allegedly of his abduction, emerged online.

Both Mr Koh and Mr Amri had been investigated for proselytising to Muslims, a crime in Malaysia.

Mr Amri is a follower of the Shi'ite branch of Islam, which is banned in Sunni-practising Malaysia. Mr Koh was questioned about spreading Christianity to Muslims.

Both men's wives were present yesterday, shedding tears as the panel confirmed what they have long said - that their husbands were abducted by the authorities.

"This is not the end. It's just the beginning of our fight for religious freedom, human rights," Mr Koh's wife, Ms Susanna Liew, said, while clasping hands with Mr Amri's wife, Ms Norhayati Mohd Ariffin.

Ms Liew said the family would give a six-month grace period for the "Attorney-General and authorities to take action", after which it will file a suit against the police.

Ms Norhayati said questions surrounding her husband remain. "Though the police have been named as the ones involved, the question now is would Amri be returned to us?" she told reporters.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 04, 2019, with the headline 'Malaysian police behind disappearance of activists: Human rights commission'. Print Edition | Subscribe