Family of alleged 'enforced disappearance' victim takes plight to Jokowi

Modified 28 Mar 2019, 9:57 am

The family of Indonesian national Rudangta 'Ruth' Sitepu, who was reported missing in Malaysia three years ago, has sought the help of the country's government to trace her whereabouts.

As reported in the Jakarta Post yesterday, Ruth's younger brother Iman Setiawan Sitepu wrote an open letter to Indonesian president Joko Widodo to pressure Malaysian authorities to find her.

Ruth and her husband, pastor Joshua Hilmy, were last seen on Nov 30, 2016, and are now believed to be victims of enforced disappearance.

"A good friend of our sister contacted us in Sumatra, and told us that our sister had been reported missing because of religious related issues," Iman said in the letter, emphasising that Ruth was not someone who would break the law.

According to Jakarta Post, Ruth – a Christian-born native of Sumatra – had lived in Malaysia since 2000, where she worked as a seamstress and met Joshua. The couple married four years later.

Joshua reportedly told Ruth's family during a traditional wedding ceremony in North Sumatra in 2006 that he used to be Muslim, but had converted to Christianity – a punishable offence under Malaysian law.

The family had their last contact with Ruth in November 2016, after which she stopped responding to Facebook messages and telephone calls.

On March 6, 2017, Joshua and Ruth's landlord filed a missing persons report, and in April last year, Iman filed a report with the Indonesian Citizen Protection Department, under its Foreign Ministry.

The case remains unsolved.

The couple's disappearance bears resemblance to that of pastor Raymond Koh and NGO Perlis Hope co-founder Amri Che Mat. 

Koh was abducted in Petaling Jaya on Feb 13, 2017, while Amri (below, right) was last seen on Nov 24, 2016.

An inquiry was held by the Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) to determine whether the disappearances of Koh, Amri, Joshua and Ruth were "enforced disappearances," as defined under the International Convention for Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearances (ICPPED), and if police had taken adequate steps to investigate the disappearances.

The inquiry concluded last December, with the commission expected to announce its findings on April 3.

Initiate independent probe

Responding to the Jakarta Post report, Selayang MP William Leong called on Malaysian authorities to order a new independent investigation into the disappearance of the four individuals.

"The rule of law demands that there is proper closure for these cases.

"There can be no rule of law if people can simply disappear or are abducted without a trace of their whereabouts," he said in a statement, adding that the disappearances – especially in the case of Koh (below) – have come to international attention.

Koh's abduction has been raised on two occasions in UN Human Rights Council meetings.

"The absence of an explanation by the authorities into the disappearance of these persons is not acceptable. There is a clear trend in these missing persons cases," his statement read.

"The effect and implication is an absolutely frightening development in our country which prides ourselves as a moderate and tolerant multiracial and multi-religious country.

"It is alarming that the police are unable to track down the culprits despite the evidence and leads unearthed during the Suhakam Inquiry, especially in the cases of Koh and Amri."

Leong further called for the establishment of the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) to be expedited.

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