Malaysia’s former police chief dismissed accusations that officers were involved in the abduction of a Christian pastor eight months ago, telling a human rights commission fact-finding panel Monday that his men were doing their best to solve the case.
Pastor Raymond Koh Keng Joo, 62, was snatched by a group of men in broad daylight on Feb. 13, when they forced his car to a stop as it exited a highway in Petaling Jaya, near Kuala Lumpur. The kidnapping was captured on surveillance cameras. Koh, a member of Malaysia’s Christian minority, has been missing ever since.
“There must be some form of police insignia. If there is none, that is not a police operation,” Khalid Abu Bakar, the recently retired inspector general of police, testified when asked whether the abductors who were wearing balaclavas could have been policemen.
The nation’s former police chief was appearing before a three-member inquiry panel set up by the Malaysian Human Rights Commission (Suhakam), a government body, to investigate the cases of four missing persons, including Pastor Koh.
“Sometimes in operations, not everyone would have signs or insignia but someone would surely have one,” he added.
The CCTV footage indicated that Koh’s abduction was planned and organized, but Khalid said it was not professionally done.
“This is all learned from movies and they tried to emulate it. It is not the only occurrence,” Khalid said responding to a question by Koh’s lawyer and citing examples from gang-related murders.
The abduction, according to Khalid, looked messy.
“To a layman that might look efficient,” he told the panel.
The panel is carrying out its inquiry into the disappearances of Koh, Pastor Joshua Hilmi and his wife, Ruth Sitepu, and social activist Amri Che Mat under the Human Rights Commission Malaysia Act.
The inquiry by the panelists – Suhakam commissioners Mah Weng Kai, Aishah Bidin and Nik Salida Suhaila – aims to determine whether these cases were involuntary disappearances in breach of the nation’s criminal and civil law.
It also seeks to identify responsible individuals or agencies and find out whether police officials have taken adequate steps to investigate the cases, Suhakam said in a statement.
‘You cannot say that we are not doing anything’
Khalid’s statement on Monday contradicted previous testimony from eyewitness Roeshan Celestine Gomez, who said that a police inspector at the Kelana Jaya police station told him that the abduction resembled a police operation. Gomez said he was told this while lodging a police report about the incident.
The panel also asked Khalid to respond to allegations that police were more interested in investigating accusations that Koh and his NGO, Harapan Komuniti, were involved in proselytizing Christianity to Muslims.
Khalid said police were looking at the case from a broad angle and questions regarding the pastor’s activity were essential to see if it had any connection to his disappearance.
“There were reports saying he was involved in proselytization, so that must also be investigated, but it does not steer us away from the main investigation of his abduction,” said Khalid, who retired as police chief in early September. “You cannot say that we are not doing anything.”
The panel’s fifth witness, Khalid repeatedly declined to answer some questions.
“I reserve my right to not answer questions pertaining to the suspects as the case is still ongoing. The suspect might be arrested in the future so I cannot say anything,” he said several times.
Earlier, the pastor’s son Jonathan Koh, had said that most questions from police had to do with whether his father was proselytizing to Muslims.
“I was disappointed because they were not concerned about his abduction and refused to give us information regarding the case,” he testified.
Jonathan Koh also told the inquiry that his father had received an anonymous call in Arabic, which they perceived to be a threat, in 2016.
“I only heard it being mentioned. It was with music and some words in the background. In Arabic, ‘Allahu Akbar’ (God is great),” he said.
Koh’s wife, Susanna Liew, had said that the family was living in fear of death threats since 2011, when his NGO was accused of trying to convert Muslim youths to Christianity, an act that is considered illegal in Malaysia. The family’s troubles began when officers with the Islamic Religious Department in Selangor state raided a Thanksgiving dinner attended by Muslims.
Three others are missing
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 that he was spreading Shia Muslim teachings, according to local media reports.
Witnesses reported seeing five vehicles block the path of his jeep, which was found empty and parked near a local dam, with its windshield smashed.
Six days later, Hilmi and his wife, Ruth, both Christian preachers, were last seen at their home in Selangor state. A missing-persons report was not filed until March 6, officials said.
Blog postings claim that 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 have been subpoenaed by the inquiry and 35 people, including family members and police, have been interviewed.