KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's human rights commission has concluded that the country's police are behind the disappearance of a Christian pastor and Muslim social activist, after a public inquiry that took over a year to complete.
According to the commission's decision document released on Wednesday (April 3), 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 because of their religious activities, which were seen as proselytisation.
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 on Wednesday.
Responding to Suhakam's 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, The Star reported.
“He (Mohamad Fuzi) was then the Special Branch officer (head), but he is going to retire soon. We will let him retire first and then we will have another IGP who will conduct an investigation (on his involvement),” said Tun Dr Mahathir, referring to the Inspector-General of Police.
Meanwhile, former home minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi denied issuing any directive or order to abduct the two men.
"There was no such directive given by me or the ministry's chief secretary. I hope the investigation will be carried out professionally," Ahmad Zahid said, as quoted by The Star. He was home minister from May 2013 to May 2018.
The inquiry panel's chairman Mah Weng Kwai, a former judge, noted similarities between the two cases, and said the organised 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 Datuk Mah.
According to eyewitness accounts, both men were abducted after the vehicles they were driving were boxed in by three other cars. Both the men's car windows were smashed, and a gold-coloured Toyota Vios was present in both incidents.
The Toyota was found to be owned by a former police officer, a Mr Saiful Bahari from the Special Branch, who has since gone missing and remains uncontactable.
Police had insisted that the two disappearances were unrelated.
According to them, Mr Amri had likely fled his home because of 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".
In Oct 2017, Malaysia's human rights commission (Suhakam) began its public inquiry into the disappearance of pastor Raymond Koh and social activist Amri Che Mat. These are the events leading up to the men's disappearance.
Amri Che Mat, 45
March 2014: Mr Amri is arrested with 113 others at a Shia gathering in Perak
Oct 2015: Religious authorities tell him and his wife they can only practise as Shia Muslims behind closed doors
Oct: Police Special Branch investigation concludes Mr Amri and his NGO Perlis Hope had proselytised Shia Islam
21-23 Nov: Mr Amri's home is under surveillance from morning till midnight, according to testimony at the inquiry
24 Nov: Mr Amri is abducted while en route to meet a friend. Witnesses say they heard tyres screeching and glass breaking, and saw three vehicles box in Mr Amri's car.
25 Nov: Mr Amri's car found abandoned at a disused construction site.
Raymond Koh, 64
Aug 2011: State religious authority investigates Mr Koh's non-profit organisation Harapan Komuniti for proselytising to Muslims after it hosted a thanksgiving dinner. Two weeks later he receives an envelope containing two bullets.
13 Feb 2017: Mr Koh is abducted in broad daylight while driving in Kelana Jaya, Selangor. Eyewitnesses say three black 4WD vehicles boxed in his car while two more cars and two motorcycles surrounded the vehicle. Men in black, wearing balaclavas were seen struggling with the vehicle driver.
One example was the police's explanation that items believed to belong to Mr Koh had been seized at a gang leader's home. However, police officers testifying at the inquiry gave differing information, including that the authorities sweeping the place had found Mr Koh's belongings underneath the house - a single-storey concrete home.
The panel concluded that the police evidence could not be accepted since the items presented were either "never seized", "had been planted by the officers concerned" or the officers had testified "without any factual basis whatsoever and concocted the evidence".
Mr Koh's disappearance had gripped the country after a video, allegedly of his abduction, emerged online and went viral.
Both Mr Koh and Mr Amri had been investigated in the past for proselytising other religions to Muslims, a crime in Malaysia.
Mr Amri is a follower of the Shia branch of Islam, which is banned in Sunni-practising Malaysia. Meanwhile, Mr Koh had previously been investigated on suspicion of proselytising Christianity to Muslims.
Both men's wives were present on Wednesday, shedding tears as the panel confirmed what they have both long argued - that their husbands were abducted by the authorities.
"Till today, we don't know what happened to our husbands and why they were taken," said Ms Susanna Liew, Mr Koh's wife.
"This is not the end. It's just the beginning of our fight for religious freedom and human rights," Ms Liew said, while clasping hands with Mr Amri's wife, Ms Norhayati Mohd Ariffin.
Ms Liew said family members would give a grace period of six months for the "Attorney-General and authorities to take action", after which they would file a civil suit against the police.
Ms Norhayati expressed her anger at the police but 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.
Ms Liew said it was difficult for both families to come to terms with the men's disappearance, referring to her husband's absence as an "ambiguous loss".
"Are we widows? Are my children now orphans? We don't know. All we need is closure," she said.