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Enforced disappearance: Were Amri Che Mat and Pastor Raymond Koh taken out by a hit squad?

We demand that the attorney general drop the appeal to hide the truth

Family members of Raymond Koh and Amri Che Mat

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A couple of months after Malaysia’s human rights commission, Suhakam, concluded after a public inquiry that Amri Che Mat, an activist and founder of a Perlis NGO Hope and alleged Shia convert, and Pastor Raymond Koh were victims of enforced disappearance by the police, the then Pakatan Harapan government set up a special taskforce on 29 June 2019 to re-investigate the matter.

The thinking then was the PH government was trying to be accountable and answerable to the people for the dastardly acts of the police.

Two individuals nearly three months apart disappeared seven years ago – one mysteriously close to midnight on 24 November 2016, the other in broad daylight on 13 February 2017 kidnapped by 15 masked men in a daring operation.

Both men have not been seen or heard from since. Are they alive or were they murdered? Nobody knows! But they couldn’t have disappeared into thin air without a trace.

Also disappearing into thin air in the interim period were Pastor Joshua Hilmy, a Malay convert to Christianity, and his Indonesian wife, Pastor Ruth Sitepu, who were last seen leaving their home in Kampung Tunku in Petaling Jaya on 30 November 2016.

Phillip Koh, Sitepu’s lawyer, submitted to the Suhakam inquiry in June 2018 that the disappearances occurred soon after a speech by a then senior Special Branch officer at the KDN Complex in Kuala Lumpur in November 2016.

The lawyer claimed the speech, delivered at a seminar on terrorism, had alleged that, while the Malaysian government was busy looking at terror groups like the Islamic State, it had forgotten “real enemies” like “Christian proselytisers and Shia converts”.

The lawyer claimed the speech had alleged that due to the abolition of the Internal Security Act (ISA), which had allowed detention without trial, the authorities had to resort to extra-legal means to deal with the alleged proselytisation of some Malay segments.

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He argued that the disappearance of Hilmy and Sitepu amounted to enforced disappearance by the state due to the couple’s involvement in the proselytisation of the Christian faith. Pastor Koh was also allegedly involved in Christian proselytisation.

Hilmy and Sitepu were last seen on 30 November 2016. However, they were only reported missing on 6 March 2017, over three months later.

“Their disappearance must be put in the context of [the disappearance of] Pastor Koh and Amri Che Mat as well. These disappearances arose from extra-legal and extra-judicial religious policing,” after the abolition of the ISA, the lawyer said.

On 3 April 2019 Suhakam concluded that Pastor Koh and Amri were victims of enforced disappearance due to the involvement of the Special Branch from the Bukit Aman Police headquarters in Kuala Lumpur.

This is something very disturbing for many and psychologically debilitating for the affected families. It is not fair for these families to be kept in the dark for nearly seven years. There has to be a closure to this tragedy. It can’t drag on indefinitely.

This tragedy concerns not only their immediate families but all of us as well. We have a right to know what happened and why. If the truth is not unearthed, any of us can just disappear any time without a trail. In a civilised society, there should be no room for any organised unit to commit a state-sanctioned crime. This is abominable. Taxpayers cannot be supporting – let alone be seen to be supporting – criminals who are paid and maintained by the state.

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It is established that the special taskforce had completed its work and submitted its report to the government. One would legitimately expect the government to make public this report. But it hasn’t. Why is the government sitting on the report? Why the reluctance to release it? Don’t we have the right to know what happened to two fellow citizens?

If it was the Barisan Nasional government, we can understand the reluctance. They are only accountable to themselves – not to the public. But the report is now with the “unity government”. PH is a major part of the government! Why is it sitting on it? Why the reluctance to be open and accountable to the people? Is PH trying to cover up the misdeeds of Barisan Nasional, because the latter’s dominant party, Umno, is part of the unity government now? We cannot brook this nonsense!

What was done and what had taken place is utterly reprehensible. This cannot be tolerated. The culprits must be exposed and severely punished. Those responsible should be brought to book.

The police force must be cleansed. The rogue police officers in the heart of Bukit Aman who committed these heinous crimes must be weeded out to face the brunt of the law in order to deter any further blatant crimes undertaken by the police.

We were heartened when the Kuala Lumpur High Court ordered the government on 9 May to disclose the report to Norhayati Mohd Ariffin, Amri’s wife, within one month. It was great news for the families and their relatives after so many years of effort and pain. It was something that was lauded by many happy Malaysians because now the truth would be known. Many of them awaited the release of the report with bated breath.

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Their joy and hope came crashing down when, two days before the expiry of the one-month deadline, it was made known that the attorney general had filed an appeal the previous week, and the court had granted a stay of its order to release the report. It looks as if the report may not see the light of day after all!

This bombshell revelation came as a terrible shock to all of us, dashing our hopes. We are left wondering what was so damning in the report that it could not be disclosed without condemning the entire police force for having a hit squad in its midst that wantonly gets rid of those whom they view as dangerous.

No one so far has been charged, convicted and sentenced. Why did the police assume the role of public prosecutor, judge and jury in this matter? This is something likely to happen only in a banana republic – not in Malaysia! Yet it happened and the state is fighting to keep it a secret.

We demand that the attorney general drop the appeal to hide the truth. We cannot condone the Malaysian police force committing crimes against the people. Such acts are singularly abhorrent and absolutely criminal and must be rooted out of the system.

Let’s be guided by the wise words of Bernice King, a lawyer, minister and daughter of Martin Luther King Jr, who observed that “allowing the state to kill its citizens for any reason diminishes our humanity and sets a sadistic and dangerous precedent that is unworthy of a civilised society”.

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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Khoo Soo Hay
Khoo Soo Hay
24 Jun 2023 9.56am

There must be something very dirty to hide by people with power to do so.

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