Almost a year after the abduction of Malaysian church leader Raymond Koh, an enquiry into his kidnapping has been suddenly halted, leaving his family confused and upset.
Pastor Koh was abducted in broad daylight on 13 February 2017 by at least 15 masked men driving black vehicles. They ambushed his car in a military-precision operation that was caught on CCTV. Koh was bundled out of his car and carried away. His vehicle was also taken and has not been found.
Although footage of the abduction was shared widely and shocked the nation, there has been virtually no progress in police investigations. An enquiry into his disappearance was set up under the auspices of the country’s Human Rights Commission, SUHAKAM. But now the enquiry has been abruptly halted, ostensibly because a man has been charged in relation to Pastor Koh’s kidnap.
The law specifies that its power to hold an inquiry ceases when court proceedings against a suspect are activated. But the decision to charge a suspect – and therefore halt the enquiry – came as a complete shock to the family of Pastor Koh, who are desperately searching for some answers. They had no idea that a person was about to be charged, and reacted with disappointment to the sudden end to the enquiry.
“It is very shocking for us as a family, as we had no idea this was going to happen,” said Koh’s wife, Susanna Liew. “We hope that there will be justice. We still have hope in the system but I’m afraid today this hope has been crushed.”
The man charged is a part-time Uber driver, Lam Chang Nam. Lam, 31, was charged in March last year with attempting to extort $30,000 Malaysian dollars (about £5,500) from Koh’s son for the release of his 63-year-old father. The police initially cleared Lam of any actual involvement in the actual kidnap, but he has now been charged with the pastor’s abduction.
However, there are suspicions that the decision to charge the suspect has more to do with saving the Malaysian police from embarrassment. The civil society coalition, Citizens Against Enforced Disappearances (CAGED), said accused the law enforcement agencies of deftly trying to shut down the inquiry because the evidence heard in 12 days of sittings had embarrassed the police.
In a statement police chief Mohamad Fuzi said: “Investigations are still ongoing and we have found a new lead that associates Lam with Koh’s abduction.” He added that a hunt is on for seven others still at large, who are linked to the case.
Koh’s family were incensed last year when they heard police had been investigating whether the pastor had been proselytising Muslims, instead of focusing on pursuing his captors. In 2011 Koh had been accused of proselytising Muslims, and had also received bullets in the mail.
Malaysia is number 23 on the Open Doors World Watch List of countries where Christians face the most extreme persecution. While freedom of religion is enshrined in the Malaysian constitution, the government forbids conversion of Muslims.
Malaysian Christians meanwhile fear that if Lam is convicted of Koh’s kidnap, or even freed because of a lack of evidence, the human rights inquiry will be stalled for a long time and the hope of justice for his family will be more than likely snuffed out.
- That Pastor Koh would be found alive and well and returned to his family
- For other Christians in Malaysia who have been abducted
- That justice would be done and that the authorities would support the rights of minorities in Malaysia.