Two years on from the highly coordinated abduction of Malaysian pastor, Raymond Koh, there is still no news on his whereabouts. Open Doors is continuing to urge action from the Malaysian government, and encouraging supporters to continue to pray for Raymond’s safe return.
On 13 February 2017, Raymond Koh was abducted. The attack was caught on CCTV. At least ten men in black SUVs blocked a major road during broad daylight; they then forced Raymond out of his car and into theirs. The whole operation took less than a minute. It was executed with such precision that many believe it was a coordinated attack by trained individuals.
Raymond Koh has not been seen since.
"The facts of this case are utterly outrageous," said Zoe Smith, Head of Advocacy at Open Doors. Despite CCTV footage of the abduction and an enquiry into the disappearance, it has now been two years since Raymond Koh vanished and there is still no news.
Open Doors is urging the Malaysian government to throw its entire weight behind locating Pastor Koh and three other individuals who went missing around the same time. Zoe Smith said: "We urge the new Malaysian government to expose the truth behind these abductions and to root out the corruption which allegedly led to their disappearances."
Christian husband and wife, Joshua Hilmy and Ruth Sitepu, were last seen in November 2016, while Shia Muslim activist Amri Che Mat was also abducted in November 2016 in a highly professional operation very similar to that of Raymond Koh. (Shia Islam is banned by religious authorities in Malaysia.)
Raymond Koh’s wife, Susanna, told Open Doors about the day Raymond went missing and the inquiry into the event: "I received a lot of missed calls. When I saw the calls I quickly responded," she said. "I found out my husband had missed some very important meetings, which is not his usual self. He is very punctual, very committed and consistent. That raised a panic in me."
Susanna filed a missing person’s report in the police station, but, to her shock, she was questioned for five hours over Raymond’s disappearance. "They asked me about my husband’s activities. My husband and I started a social organisation - we worked among the poor, the needy, people infected with HIV AIDS and single mothers. [Raymond] was reaching out to people of all races of all religions.
"By the strength of the Holy Spirit I was able to exert my right and emphasise that their job is to look for my husband and not to spend time questioning me," Susanna said.
In Malaysia, it is illegal to share the gospel with Malay Muslims, and the constitution prevents Malays from converting to other religions. Churches are often monitored by the government to ensure they are not reaching out to Muslims. Years before his abduction, Raymond was accused of proselytising Muslims and received bullets in the post as a threat.
The police began an investigation into Raymond’s disappearance, but it was Raymond’s children who found the CCTV footage after they went door-to-door around the neighbourhood to see if any security cameras had captured the abduction.
It seemed to the Koh family that the investigation into Raymond's disappearance was moving so slowly due to his Christian faith. Susanna said, "Most of the police investigators are of the Muslim faith. If they were to do something to help, they would be seen as anti-Islam, so that is why I think they are taking their hands off."
But in May 2018, there was new hope that his family would finally have answers; a new government was elected that appeared to be more amenable to minority faiths, and a police whistleblower also came forward, implicating the Bukit Aman, a special branch of the police force, in the abduction of Raymond Koh. The whistleblower claimed that the abduction was carried out with the full knowledge and approval of the then Inspector General of Police, Khalid Abu Bakar. Should these allegations prove true, the police and possibly several members of the Malaysian government seriously undermined the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia, committed perjury, obstructed justice, and demonstrated a complete disrespect for the rule of law.
In June 2018, Open Doors asked supporters to join thousands of other voices calling for the Malaysian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom and the Malaysian Minister for Home Affairs to take action on behalf of Raymond Koh. Tiffany Barrans, Advocacy Manager for Open Doors International, met with the Malaysian Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN to advocate for Pastor Koh.
After a year and a half with seemingly half-hearted efforts from police and little progress in the case, the investigation began to move forwards.
At the end of July 2018, de facto Law Minister Liew Vui Keong publicly called for progress on the case: "This is unacceptable that people are missing in our country, and I have asked the police to investigate deeper. We must know what happened to them and who is responsible for their disappearance," he said.
A public inquiry was launched into the disappearance of Raymond Koh, Joshua Hilmy, Ruth Sitepu, and Amri Che Mat, which was concluded on 7 December 2018. Susanna, her children and thousands of Christians across Malaysia are now waiting for the findings of the inquiry, which are expected in March this year. Susanna Koh said at the time, "We are looking forward and we have great expectation that Raymond and the rest will be released and that the culprits will be brought to justice."
But for now, Raymond Koh is still missing. His family still don’t have answers, still don’t have justice.
'GOD HAS HIS PURPOSE'
Even in the midst of her sorrows, Susanna is able to see how God has been at work since her husband disappeared. In November 2018, a group of Christians from Sweden met with her to encourage her and pray for her, and she told them, "I don’t understand why this is happening but God has his purpose."
She shared that churches in Malaysia have come together to say that these disappearances are not acceptable. "This is the first time we see the evangelicals and the Roman Catholics come together. They hold hands and pray. And I know that God is pleased with this."
She also shared about the prayer vigils that have taken place. They have been attended by ordinary citizens, non-activists, and some who are not even Christians. "The spirit of prayer was going around. One even told me that she prayed for Raymond every night, even though she is not the praying type. Others were asking who this Raymond is that so many are praying for him. That is where Christians took the opportunity to share the gospel with them. We also received reports that some have found back their faith in God."
In the time since Raymond’s abduction, Susanna has also become close with the wife of missing Shia Muslim activist Amri Che Mat, Norhayati, and they have been a huge support to one another. One person who attended one of the prayer vigils for their missing husbands commented, "It was really nice to see a Christian and a Muslim standing together in support and encouragement to one another, especially since the past years, there had been quite a number of incidences that increases the religious tension in the country."
When Susanna met with the team from Sweden, she asked for continued prayers, especially for patience, as sometimes she gets angry with the police for not updating her about the case. She said, "Why is this taking so long? Whether he is dead or alive, we don't know. An insider had told me that Amri Che Mat was beaten. I think Raymond will be, too. If he is martyred, he is my hero. God will be with him wherever he is."
Susanna is grateful to Open Doors supporters for their prayers: "It’s been a long and difficult journey because of the uncertainty. We don’t know where he is, who has taken him or how he is. We are thankful for the support of the local churches and Christians all over the world and their prayers."
Timeline of events
13 February 2017 – Pastor Raymond Koh is abducted in a coordinated attack in broad daylight. It takes the police ten days to set up a task force to investigate the abduction.
September 2017 – A candlelit vigil is held over 200 days after Raymond Koh’s abduction, to pray for him, as well as missing Christians Joshua Hilmy and Ruth Sitepu, and Shia Muslim activist Amri Che Mat. Susanna Koh, Raymond’s wife, says, "Like the rest of Malaysia, all I know is what I read in the media."
October 2017 - The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) starts a public inquiry into the disappearance of Raymond Koh, Joshua Hilmy, Ruth Sitepu, and Amri Che Mat.
January 2018 - The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) reports that they have been told by the police to stop the public inquiry into the disappearance of Raymond Koh, because the police have apprehended a suspect and are charging him in court for the kidnapping. Susanna Koh says, "Our hope when we came to the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) was to find some answers to the many questions we had about his abduction. We are very disappointed that our hope to find answers and exercise our human rights for truth and justice is being denied. We hope that there will be justice, and although we still have hope in the system, I’m afraid that today this hope has been crushed."
February 2018 – A prayer event is held a year after Pastor Raymond Koh’s disappearance. Susanna says, "Our lives have been different since he has been gone. We miss him so much." Despite her grief, she also says, "I am grateful to Jesus, who is our Good Shepherd. I have this picture of Psalm 23 in my mind, when the psalmist says he has no lack. The Lord has provided for us and continues to be with us, as he is with Raymond. Though I do not know why this has happened, I believe that God will work it out for the good of those who love Him."
May 2018 - The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) resumes the inquiry of Pastor Raymond’s disappearance. A new government is elected, and a whistle blower comes forward implicating the Bukit Aman, a special branch of the police force, in the abduction of Raymond Koh. The whistleblower claims that the abduction was carried out with the full knowledge and approval of the then Inspector General of Police, Khalid Abu Bakar. Susanna says, "I hope now with the new government that the investigation documents will not be put under the Official Secrets Act any more, and I hope Raymond, Amri Che Mat, Joshua and Ruth Hilmy will be released soon."
June 2018 – A solidarity vigil is organised by CAGED (Citizens Against Enforced Disappearance) in Merdeka Square, Kuala Lumpur. About 100 people attend to show support to the families of missing Pastor Raymond Koh, Amri Che Mat, Joshua Hilmy, and Ruth Sitepu.
November 2018 – Pastor Raymond is still missing on his 64th birthday. Susanna says, "Wherever he is, God is with him. He is our hero because he was willing to obey God's command even at the risk of his life." Raymond Koh’s mother passes away. The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) closes its case on Amri Che Mat.
December 2018 – Inquiry into Raymond Koh’s disappearance is concluded. Susanna says, "We are looking forward and we have great expectation that Raymond and the rest will be released and that the culprits will be brought to justice."
- For Susanna and her family as they wait for news
- That wherever Raymond, Joshua, Ruth and Amre are, God will bring them comfort and peace
- That the Human Rights Commission inquiry will shed light on the disappearances, and that Raymond and the others will be returned home safely.