Malaysian police announced Tuesday they had filed charges in the case of missing Pastor Raymond Koh Keng Joo, and a human rights fact-finding panel said it had suspended its inquiry into the kidnapping.
Surveillance cameras recorded the 62-year-old priest being snatched in broad daylight from a road in the suburbs of Kuala Lumpur on Feb. 13, 2017, when SUVs and motorcycles forced his car to stop and men in black face masks whisked him away. Koh’s kidnapping took less than a minute and was witnessed by several other drivers who reported it to police.
Malaysian national Lam Chang Nam was charged Monday under section 365 of the country’s penal code at a court in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia’s police chief Mohamad Fuzi Harun said in a statement. Section 365 concerns kidnapping and abduction.
“He is suspected of involvement with seven others who are still at large, in kidnapping Pastor Raymond Koh Keng Joo early last year,” the statement said.
“The investigation into the disappearance of Pastor Raymond Koh is still ongoing and police have found a new lead linking Lam Chang Nam with the case.”
The statement did not say what the new evidence was or whether Koh had been found.
Meanwhile, the Malaysian Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) announced it had halted a public inquiry into Koh’s kidnapping after receiving instructions from police to do so.
The agency had launched its probe due to an apparent lack of progress in the case, which, some witnesses said, bore the hallmarks of a police operation.
“We were surprised by this development. We had not heard anything about this until yesterday,” Commissioner Mah Weng Kwai said at Suhakam’s offices on Tuesday, when the 12th hearing of the inquiry had been scheduled to take place.
A letter from Fuzi on Monday called for the hearing to be halted due to the arrest of a suspect, he said. The charter of the government rights body requires it to stop inquiries on cases that are being prosecuted.
“We decided to stop the investigation until further notice,” Mah said.
“A suspect was charged at Petaling Jaya Court on January 15. He was arrested on Jan. 12. We don’t know whether he was remanded or released on bail.”
Suhakam’s decision questioned
According to the media outlet MalaysiaKini, the charge sheet said Lam was a 31-year-old part- time Uber driver, who carried out the kidnapping along with seven other people still at-large at about 10:25 a.m. on Feb. 13 last year.
If convicted, he could face up to seven years in jail, and a fine.
Lam’s lawyer, Aaron Mark Pius, confirmed that his client had been charged but said he had pleaded not guilty, according to media reports.
In March 2017, Lam had entered the same plea to a charge of attempting to extort 30,000 Malaysian ringgit (U.S. $7,575) from Koh’s son to free his father.
At an earlier court hearing, the head of the Selangor State criminal investigations department, Fadzil Ahmat, said Lim had nothing to do with the Koh’s kidnapping but had taken advantage of it to commit extortion.
A three-member inquiry panel set up by Suhakam had already subpoenaed about 15 people, including former national police chief Khalid Abu Bakar, and it planned to question 35 others.
Koh family lawyer Gurdial Singh questioned Suhakam’s decision. “Even if it’s true there is a suspect involved in the case, our question is broader, concerning whether authorities are telling the truth in the disappearance of Pastor Koh,” he said.
Koh’s wife, Susanna Liew, said police had not informed her of the new development in the case.
“It’s very surprising for our family. We didn’t expect it to happen because our hope was for Suhakam to find the answers,” she said.
‘We have to be realistic’
Lawyer Andrew Koh of the Malaysian Bar Association said all concerned parties had to accept the latest turn of events in the case.
“We have to be realistic about the requirements of the law, which place the jurisdiction of the commission lower than the jurisdiction of the courts,” he said.
But he stressed that the probe into other disappearances should be continued, and Mah said Suhakam would keep investigating the cases of activist Amri Che Mat and Pastor Joshua Hilmi and his wife Ruth Sitepu.
Koh’s disappearance at first looked like an isolated case, but as it gained attention, other cases of missing Malaysians came to light.
Amri, 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.
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 claimed 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.