Christian pastor Raymond Koh (left) and Shia Muslim social activist Amri Che Mat went missing within three months of each other. (Photo: Free Malaysia Today)
Catholics and Protestants in Malaysia are praying for victims of enforced disappearances as they remember a Christian pastor who went missing four years ago.
The prayers of solidarity on the weekends on Feb. 6-7 and Feb. 13-14 are in response to a call from the Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM), the interdenominational Christian forum in the Muslim-majority country.
“We ask all churches to remember and pray for Pastor Raymond [Koh], Amri Che Mat, Joshua Hilmy, Ruth Sitepu and their families. May they know that we stand in solidarity with them on their continuous journey of uncertainty,” Archbishop Julian Leow Beng Kim of Kuala Lumpur, the CFM chairman, said in a statement.
“The issue of missing persons is one of human rights. Enforced disappearance is a violation of the human rights of those who go missing and of their families. Establishing the truth of what happened is important and not just to the Koh family but also for the families of Amri Che Mat, Joshua Hilmy and his wife Ruth Sitepu, who also vanished and are still missing.”
How we deal with the issue of missing persons defines us as a society, the statement added.
Archbishop Leow, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Malaysia, referred to several cases of enforced disappearances that made headlines in recent times.
Anglican pastor Richard Koh, 62, went missing on Feb. 13, 2017, from Selangor state in western Malaysia. He had been accused of proselytizing among Muslims in the state by Islamic radical groups.
Amri Che Mat, a Shia Muslim social activist from Perlis state, went missing on Nov. 24, 2016.
Pastor Joshua Hilmy, a Malay Muslim who converted to Christianity, and his wife Ruth Sitepu, an Indonesian, also went missing in November 2016.
In March 2017, Malaysian authorities pressed criminal charges of extortion over Pastor Koh’s alleged kidnapping against Lam Chang Nam, a 35-year-old part-time Uber taxi driver.
Lam was primarily accused of extorting 30,000 ringgit (US$10,000) from Koh's son, Jonathan Koh Szu Hao, 33, to release his father. In January 2018, Lam was charged with abduction of the pastor.
Lam pleaded not guilty and his lawyer Aron Mark told the media his client was facing fabricated charges. He was later acquitted of kidnapping amid criticism from rights groups at home and abroad. A decision in the extortion case is expected to come on April 30.
Lam told UCA News that he was framed on baseless charges and the humiliation caused such substantial personal and financial damage for him that he felt “horrible.”
“I have never met or even knew the pastor’s son before. I suspect someone registered a prepaid SIM under my name and then misused it since I was a victim of a snatch thief and lost my wallet, which I reported to the police,” he said.
In April 2019, following a year-long inquiry, the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) announced that Pastor Koh and activist Amri Che Mat were victims of enforced disappearances by state agents of Malaysia.
Closed-circuit TV camera footage showed half a dozen men in balaclavas using black SUVs to block Pastor Koh's car on a public road in Petaling Jaya in broad daylight.
SUHAKAM concluded there was "direct and circumstantial evidence which proves, on the balance of probabilities” that both men were taken away by the Special Branch, the intelligence unit of Malaysian police.
The findings sparked an outcry from church groups in Malaysia and beyond for the immediate release of Pastor Koh.
However, Malaysian police denied the allegations and then inspector-general of police Abdul Hamid Bador criticized SUHAKAM for tarnishing the image of the police.
Another inquiry by the commission into the disappearance of Joshua Hilmy and his wife Ruth Sitepu is still ongoing.
Church groups and human rights organizations have expressed frustration that despite promises from the Malaysian government to carry out renewed investigation into the cases, there has been little progress and updates have not been made public.
Pastor Koh’s family members have vowed not to give up the fight for justice.
Koh’s wife, Susanna Liew, spoke to media on Feb. 8 and reminded Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin to fulfil his promises to solve mysteries relating to the case of her missing husband and other activists.
Liew recalled that Muhyiddin, who had been the home minister of the previous Pakatan Harapan government, met her and the family of another activist and promised to deliver justice after they went missing.