The first witness at Malaysia human rights commission’s public inquiry into the disappearance of four people, including three members of the Christian minority, said an inspector told him that one abduction looked like a police operation.
Malaysian police have confirmed that Pastor Raymond Koh Keng Joo was abducted in February, but classified the others as “missing people.” The other cases dating to November 2016 involve husband-and-wife Christian clerics and a Muslim activist.
Koh was abducted on a road in a Kuala Lumpur suburb on Feb. 13. It occurred in broad daylight as a CCTV camera filmed some SUVs and motorcycles surrounding his car, forcing him to stop before he was taken away. His car has not been found.
The only witness on Thursday, the first of the 10-day day proceeding, said an officer remarked that the method of abduction he had witnessed was a “police operation.”
Roeshan Celestine Gomez, who claimed he witnessed Koh’s abduction, told the inquiry that the statement came from an investigating officer at the Kelana Jaya police station, where he lodged a report. He later identified the officer as Inspector Ali Asra.
“I had asked the police officer if the scene I described looked more like a kidnapping, but he told us not to worry as it looked very much like the modus operandi of a police operation,” said Gomez, a student at the time who has since graduated from law school.
Gomez said the officer told him that the incident happened quickly and in broad daylight. The presence of an individual recording the incident also fits in with a police operation.
The commission’s inquiry into the disappearances of Koh, Pastor Joshua Hilmi and his wife, Ruth Sitepu, and social activist Amri Che Mat is being held under the Human Rights Commission Malaysia Act.
The inquiry is led by Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) commissioners Mah Weng Kai, Aishah Bidin and Nik Salida Suhaila, while lawyers representing family members of the four are attending as observers.
The inquiry began with Weng Kai, the chairman and a former judge in Malaysia’s second highest court, informing attendees it was not a court trial, but he intends to release a report once finished.
“The idea is to arrive at truth and justice,” he said.
The fact-finding panel aims to determine whether these cases were involuntary disappearances in breach of the nation’s criminal and civil law.
It would also identify individuals or agencies responsible for such alleged breaches and find out whether police officials have taken adequate steps to investigate the cases, SUHAKAM said in a statement.
CCTV footage corroborates witness
CCTV footage from two nearby houses showed at least three black SUVs were involved in the abduction. Gomez told the inquiry he was driving with a friend behind Pastor Koh’s car when the abduction occurred.
“My friend raised her phone to record the incident, but a man came up in front of us and gestured to us not to,” he said.
Gomez said he left after the man made hand signals for him to back his car away from the SUVs. Three motorcyclists were also circling the area at the time, he said.
He confirmed that CCTV footage captured what he had witnessed.
Koh’s non-governmental organization, Harapan Komuniti (Hope Community), was investigated by Islamic authorities in 2011 over allegations it hosted a party with Muslim attendees at a church, according to reports.
The missing pastor was the target of allegations he had tried to convert Muslim youths to Christianity, which is considered a crime in Malaysia.
Koh’s wife, Susanna Liew, said she was scheduled to speak to the inquiry on Friday.
Social activist disappeared
Amri, a social activist, co-founder of a local NGO and resident of the state of Perlis, was last seen on Nov. 24, 2016. His disappearance may have been religiously motivated based on allegations he was spreading Shia Muslim teachings, which are frowned upon in the Sunni Muslim-majority country, according to local media reports.
Witnesses reported seeing five vehicles block the path of his jeep, which was found empty, its windshield smashed and parked near a local dam.
On Nov. 30, 2016, Hilmi and his wife, Ruth, both Christian preachers, were last seen at their home in Selangor state. A missing-person report, however, was not filed until March 6, officials said.
Blog postings claim the couple had been Muslims before becoming Christians and converted others to the religion.
More than 60 percent of Malaysia’s 19.5 million citizens are Muslims.
At least 15 people, including former police Inspector-General Khalid Abu Bakar, have been subpoenaed by the inquiry and 35 people, including family members and police, have been interviewed.