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Enforced Disappearances: Were Amri Che Mat and Pastor Raymond Koh murdered by the police?

By P. Ramakrishnan

The men could not have disappeared into thin air without any trace whatsoever so why did the Attorney-General prevent the release of the report into Che Mat’s disappearance?

A couple of months after Suhakam had concluded after a public inquiry that Amri Che Mat, the activist and founder of a Perlis non-governmental organisation (NGO) Hope and an alleged Shia convert, and Pastor Raymond Koh were victims of enforced disappearance by the police, the Pakatan Harapan government set up a special task force on 29 June 2019 to re-investigate the matter.

The thinking then was the Pakatan Harapan 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 was  kidnapped by 15 masked men in a daring attempt.

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

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.

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

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

Mr Koh claimed that the speech had alleged that due to the then abolishment of the Internal Security Act (ISA), the authorities had to resort to extra-legal means to deal with alleged proselytisation of some Malay segments.

He argued that the disappearance of Hilmy and Sitepu is 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, or more than 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, Mr Koh argued.

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

This is something very disturbing to Malaysians 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, anyone of us can just disappear any time without a trail. In a civilized society, there should be no room for any organized unit to committing state-sanctioned crime. This is abominable. Taxpayers cannot be supporting, leave alone seen to be supporting criminals who are paid and maintained by the state.

It is established that the special task force had completed its work and had 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 Malaysians have the right to know what happened to two fellow Malaysian 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. Pakatan Harapan is the major part of the government! Why is it sitting on it? Why the reluctance to be open and accountable to the people? Is it trying to cover up the misdeeds of the BN because 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 had committed these heinous crimes must be weeded out of the police force to face the brunt of the law 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 happy Malaysians because now the truth will be known. Malaysians awaited the release of the report with abated breath.

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. Looks like the report may not see the light of day after all!

This revelation came as a terrible shock to all of us; it was like a bombshell and dashed our hopes. We are 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 Malaysians viewed by them 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 Malaysians demand that the AG drop the appeal to hide the truth. We cannot condone the Malaysian police force committing crimes against its own Malaysian citizens. It is 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 the daughter of Martin Luther King 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 civilized society.”

FIrst published at this link on 23 June 2023

(The views expressed are those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the views of Rebuilding Malaysia.)

P Ramakrishnan is the long-serving former president of Aliran who served for three and a half decades on its executive committee and has been with Aliran since its inception in 1977. Now an ordinary Aliran member, he continues to highlight issues of public interest to a larger audience.

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