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Malaysian public has the right to know the truth about what happened

Family members of Raymond Koh and Amri Che Mat

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The Malaysian Bar is appalled that the finding unanimously reached by panel members of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam)’s public inquiry into the disappearance of Amri Che Mat and Pastor Raymond Koh is that both Amri Che Mat and Pastor Raymond Koh were the victims of enforced disappearance at the hands of the Special Branch of the headquarters of the police in Bukit Aman.

The decision is a damning indictment of the impunity exercised by this particular section of the police (ie the Special Branch), which is privileged and protected from scrutiny and accountability.

The decision, as summarised and read out by the chairman of the inquiry panel, former Court of Appeal judge Mah Weng Kwai, sets out a litany of fake alternative explanations in what had been an ill-conceived and nefarious attempt to shift attention away from the Special Branch and to pin the responsibility for these disappearances on other groups or individuals.

There were conclusions arrived at by the inquiry panel concerning dubious and contradictory testimony by various police personnel, including by former Inspector General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar; possible fabrication of evidence by the police – and even a concerted effort to derail the proceedings by charging an individual and claiming that, as a result, Suhakam no longer had any jurisdiction to proceed with the inquiry.

More worrying still was the thread of actual testimony and circumstantial evidence that interwove this operation by the Special Branch with the abuse of power by certain individuals within the state Islamic religious authorities, to seek to highlight the threat of Shia Islam.

The Malaysian Bar thus wholeheartedly supports the recommendations of the inquiry panel, principally the establishment of a special task force to reclassify, reopen and re-investigate the disappearance of Amri Che Mat and Pastor Raymond Koh – and especially to look into police involvement in their disappearances.

In our view, such a special task force must be given every power to investigate this matter, without let or hindrance.

The inquiry panel has also recommended that the authorities:

  • respect the freedom of religion as a fundamental human right
  • clearly demarcate the powers of the police and state Islamic religious authorities
  • reform the standard operating procedures of the police, to make the police more cooperative, open and transparent; less suppressive and concealing of evidence; and better and more quickly deal with cases of missing persons
  • accede to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as well as the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, and amend our domestic laws accordingly and
  • establish the independent police complaints and misconduct commission as an independent oversight body to investigate complaints about the police force.

The Malaysian Bar strongly urges the government to take the decision of the inquiry panel with the utmost seriousness and to adopt and immediately implement the inquiry panel’s various recommendations without any delay or excuse.

It is vital that the whereabouts of Amri Che Mat and Pastor Raymond Koh; the two other missing persons, Pastor Joshua Helmi and his wife Ruth; and a fifth person, a former civilian contract worker for the Royal Malaysia Police based at the police training centre by the name of Saiful Bahari, who has also vanished, be determined for the sake of their families and loved ones.

They and the Malaysian public have the right — and deserve — to know the truth about what has happened to all of them.

Abdul Fareed Abdul Gafoor is president of the Malaysian Bar.

This piece, written on 4 April 2019, is reproduced from here and has been edited for style only. 

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