Tomorrow, 13 February, will be four years since pastor Raymond Koh, was forced to a stop as he drove along a busy road in Petaling Jaya to meet a friend, bundled into another vehicle, and has not been seen since.
The whole episode was over in under 40 seconds. Seven vehicles and probably 15 people, some hiding their faces under balaclavas, were involved.
You may think that his disappearance has nothing to do with you; but actually, his abduction has everything to do with you and the state of the country.
First, just try and imagine how you would feel, if you were Susanna, Pastor Raymond Koh’s wife; Or Norhayati, the wife of Amri Che Mat. (Amri was a social activist who went missing four months earlier); Or any of their children.
You can’t. It’s impossible to experience their trauma.
When a loved one disappears, the feeling is like a wound that refuses to heal. There is no finality. Where is he? How is he? Is he ok?
Pastor Koh’s abduction reflects what is happening to Malaysia. It is a tangled web of controversy, of denials, cover-ups, incompetence and determination of the state to repress its own citizens.
I guide you in three bits, why YOU should care.
Part I: Failure of the state to uphold the law.
Malaysia is the sick nation of Asia. For over four decades, our human rights have slowly been eroded. Words, drawings, cartoons and articles may generate a tsunami of police reports and the dreaded Sedition Act.
If you live in Malaysia, you know that discrimination and intolerance is on the rise, and some people are considered more equal than others. The tourist does not see it. The visiting Malaysian living and working abroad, does not feel it either. The majority of expatriates in Malaysia learn to keep their mouths shut.
Pastor Koh (Feb 2017), Pastor Joshua Hilmy and his wife, Ruth (November2016), and Amri Che Mat (November 2016) disappeared within four months of one another.
None of them were millionaire philanthropists. They were not a kidnap risk. No family member received a ransom note demanding payment for their release.
So, what is the common thread that links them?
To try and understand what has happened, we can glimpse into their lives.
-Pastor Koh and his wife, Suzanna, founded an NGO called Harapan Komuniti. They helped the homeless, drug addicts, HIV/AIDs sufferers and single mothers. Many of the poor were Malay.
Did the authorities feel threatened by Christians showing compassion and serving the community? Were the authorities envious of Pastor Koh’s help for the needy? Did the authorities suffer from a dog-in-the-manger attitude? Were the authorities so insecure and afraid that they thought that many Malays would be moved by Pastor Koh’s compassion and want to become Christian, like him?
-Pastor Joshua was a Malay who converted to Christianity. His wife, Ruth, was Indonesian. They were allegedly warned to leave the country, including allegedly, by a politician, but they disappeared before they could leave. They had allegedly received “threatening” phone calls and emails over Joshua’s alleged conversion of Malays/Muslims to Christianity.
So, did the authorities fear that Joshua’s presence would embolden other Malays to convert?
-Amri Che Mat disappeared one night in November 2016. He was a social activist whose NGO called Perlis Hope helped the poor and single mothers. with food and accommodation. The authorities accused Perlis Hope of being a front for syiah activities. The NGO denies this as it helps people of all races and religions.
Shia Muslims are not allowed to practise their faith in Malaysia. A year before Amri disappeared, his house was raided by the Perlis mufti, and Amri was accused of spreading Shia teachings.
The NGO has closed its doors, as they do not wish their donors to fall foul of the authorities.
So, are the religious authorities fearful and envious of the good work done by Amri Che Mat?
Envy, is one of the seven deadly sins. Was envy of the good work these people did, a contributory factor in their disappearance?
The common thread that links all four people is religion.
-Article 11 of the Federal Constitution protects the right of the individual to freedom of religion.
-The Al-Baqara verse 256 in the Koran states that “There is no compulsion in religion.” In other words, faith is an intensely personal issue and each person should be allowed to find their own path in life.
Simply put, the state failed to uphold the law in Malaysia and the correct practise of the religion, despite what the Constitution and the Koran says.
Part Two: Failure of the state to protect its citizens
A few hours before Pastor Raymond was abducted, another incident was unfolding at the KL airport. Kim Jong Nam, the brother of the Supreme Leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-Un, was assassinated. Within two days, two women were arrested.
Contrast the response Suzanna received. She was questioned for five hours when she lodged a police report about Pastor Koh’s abduction. Why waste time?
The police were suspicious about the video footage from a private house showing the abduction.
What happened to the witness who reversed his car, when he stumbled on the abduction? Has he been threatened?
There are two petrol stations further up the road. Petrol stations have CCTVs. What did the recordings show?
Intersections further up the road have mounted CCTVs. Where is the footage?
Malaysia is overrun with CCTVs to monitor our movements, but in the killing of Teoh Beng Hock, Ahmad Sarbani, A Kugan and other police detainees, including last month’s rape of an underage girl in the Miri lock-up, no footage was available. The following are the usual official responses. The CCTVS were faulty, had no recording feature, pointing the wrong way, removed for repair or missing. What did they say for Pastor Koh’s case?
The PDRM and Special Branch are allegedly among the world’s best, but no-one saw anything, heard anything or discovered anything. Hundreds of millions of ringgits are spent on surveillance equipment, but no footage is available.
Let’s compare two other disappearances.
When Irish-French tourist, Nora Anne Quoirin disappeared from her resort in Dusun, Negri Sembilan, in August 2019, police roadblocks, tracker dogs, helicopters, 350 army personnel and bomohs, were deployed overnight to look for her.
Was the same amount of resources and manpower used in Pastor Koh’s case? Is the response different because a foreigner was involved, and the world was watching?
Contrast the police effort in another abduction. Indira Gandhi from Ipoh has not seen her daughter, Prasana Diksa, ever since she was kidnapped as a baby, 12 years ago, by her convert husband.
Former IGP, Khalid Abu Bakar, gave many excuses why Prasana cannot be found. He also claimed that there was a conflict of interest between the order of the syariah court, and the judgement of the civil court which ordered him to find the child and return her to Indira.
The authorities have failed its people.
i) Administering a country with two sets of laws, syariah and Civil, will cause conflict but it is individuals who bear the burden.
ii) There is a different response investigating foreigners and locals. The police appear to drag their feet when Malaysians are involved.
iii) When Malaysians disappear, there is preferential treatment for those of a particular religion.
iv) Have the police forsaken the oath to protect the public?
Part Three: Your role
The erosion of our human rights is a consequence of five decades of neglect. Malaysia was sick, even before the Coronavirus pandemic. There is a vaccine for Coronavirus, but none for corrupt, greedy and power-hungry politicians.
With money-laundering, we follow the paper trail. With the theft of priceless jewels, we follow the trail left by the gems.
In the abduction of these four people, the muddy path will lead us to Putrajaya, where you will find that the two Rs (Race, Religion) are used to undermine our rights and create a culture of fear in Malaysia.
Many hypocritical Malay leaders hide behind the cloak of religion to serve themselves. They wield an invisible stick to control the population, both Muslim and non-Muslim.
Non-Muslims face many harsh realities. Temples are demolished; crosses are removed from churches, bibles in bahasa banned.
Many Malays now find that their lives are more manipulated than most other people. No holding hands, befriending non-Muslims, playing certain musical instruments. Without this control, Malay leaders know they will lose power.
Don’t feel hopeless because you have an important role to play.
a) Education is the key to stop intolerance and extremism. Teach our children not to fear people of other races and religions.
b) Highlight to the international community what is happening in Malaysia. Our leaders are vain, and conscious of the nation’s image, and their own.
c) Create awareness. Let us not be the next Argentina, Iraq or Sri Lanka, in which scores of thousands of people disappeared. Don’t act only after one of your loved ones has been abducted.
d) The state has no right to deny you the right to life, to freedom of expression, or freedom of religion, just because you disagree with it.
e) Speak out to demand action to locate the missing four. We are stronger if we act together.
Do your bit to honour Pastor Koh. Feed the story of the missing four and keep it alive.