Mysterious disappearances of pastors, activists in Malaysia

Boldness of abductions and silence from police sparks speculation of state involvement
Mysterious disappearances of pastors, activists in Malaysia

High-profile Christian activist, Pastor Raymond Koh is one of four Malaysian activists who have recently been abducted. Koh disappeared from the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur (pictured above) without a trace on Feb. 13. (Photo by Mohd Rasfan/AFP) reporter, Kuala Lumpur
April 18, 2017
The disappearance of four social activists and Christians in Malaysia over the last several months is raising fears that Islamic vigilantes may be at work.

Since November 2016, social activist Amri Che Mat, pastors Joshua Hilmy, his wife Ruth, and Raymond Koh have been missing and their families and civil society groups in the country are seeking answers.

The police say they are investigating and have warned citizens not to comment on the matter in the Muslim-majority country which has seen rising Islamic conservatism take root in politics.

Malaysia's Christians are feeling the pressure from the mystery surrounding the disappearances.

One social activist, Peter Chong, who went missing on April 5, turned up on Easter Sunday, flying in from Thailand where he claims he was 'abducted' while searching for Pastor Koh following a tip-off.

The case that has caught the attention of Malaysians including ruling party politicians. Koh disappeared without a trace on Feb. 13 leaving police flummoxed while his family, activists and Christians could only light candles and hold vigils.

The abduction on a busy street at midday on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur was captured on the CCTV of a private residence across the street.

The video clip, which has been widely circulated on social media websites, shows a convoy of vehicles: three black SUVs, a sedan and two motorcycles force Koh's car to stop. There is a flurry of activity and then the convoy drives off along with Koh's car.  The whole incident took less than a minute. 

The boldness of the abductors, silence from the police and past bad behavior by Islamic authorities in the country when dealing with non-Muslims has sparked speculation that a state entity might have been involved.

The federal Islamic religious department, known as JAKIM, is known to be actively pushing for greater Islamization of Malaysia and shepherding Muslims into government.

Apart from Koh, others who may have upset religious elements in the country are Pastor Joshua and Ruth Hilmy who vanished along with Amri Che Mat, a Muslim social activist. All disappeared in November 2016 and their families have not heard from them since.

Amri was reportedly snatched from his car in the northern state of Perlis. His wife denied allegations that he was spreading Shia Islam, a form of the faith banned by religious authorities.

Koh's offence may be that he is a high-profile Christian activist. He heads Harapan Komuniti (Hope Community), an NGO based in Kuala Lumpur, helping the poor, single mothers, and drug users.

In 2011, his group was investigated by Islamic authorities after being accused of attempting to convert Muslims at a social gathering. Apostasy is an offence in Malaysia.

The allegations were later dropped. His family however claims he continued to receive threats about his alleged proselytizing and police have been monitoring him.

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The Malaysian Bar Council is alarmed. The "unprecedented mysterious" disappearances has led to "public perception and speculation ... of forced disappearances" it said recently using a term that usually refers to state-sponsored abductions.

"It is shocking and outrageous that a growing number of Malaysians could inexplicably disappear and not be found for days, weeks and months," the council added.

The police have not taken kindly to such talk and the country's top police officer Khalid Abu Bakar told everyone to "shut up" last month and repeated the warning last week.

Koh's wife Susanna Liew who attended a vigil in Kuala Lumpur last week says she is disappointed with the police investigation and has urged Malaysians to keep praying for the safe return of all and to keep their memory alive.

"I'm sad and disappointed ... No matter what these four have done, they cannot be abducted in broad daylight. There is no justification, no excuse, for this," she said during the vigil hosted by the human rights group Suaram.

Former Bar Council president Ambiga Sreenevasan, who spoke at the vigil, said the four were merely ordinary people trying to help the poor and needy. 

"Of course, there are a lot of allegations. If you say they have done something wrong, charge them. I plead to those who are holding them, release them," he said.

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