Missing Pastor Koh: Competence of Harapan gov't is at stake

Steve Oh

Modified 9 Jul 2019, 2:37 am

BOOK REVIEW | On a recent visit to Malaysia I bought two copies of the book "Where is Pastor Raymond Koh" written by Stephen Ng and Lee Hwa Beng. I finished reading the book from cover to cover while on the five-hour-plus flight home to Australia.

It was an easy book to read, disclosing details the media could not have published for reasons of space constraints. Now all you need to know, except the answer to where Koh is, is available in the book.

The 182-page book is a must-read for anyone who wants to know about a frightening incident that shocked the nation. They will know about the missing pastor, the genesis of his concern for and ministry to the underclass, and the events surrounding his disappearance. It is comprehensive and covers all the salient points pertinent to Koh’s unsolved mystery.

The book tells the shocking truth about a recent alarming phenomenon in the country - the involvement of specially trained police personnel in the kidnappings of law-abiding citizens who are doing good for the poor and neglected, and in one instance, a Muslim of a different Islamic sect.

What surfaced from my reading of the book, which includes the excerpts of submissions by the lawyers and related documentary evidence, was the slipshod police investigations, and signs of a conspiracy to hide the truth. 

It was self-evident from the manner in which the police, right up to the country’s top cop, treated Koh’s family, the lack of communication and attempts at silencing them and not publicising their plight.

Many will have strong words for the police, especially the former top cop and his infamous "Shut your bloody mouth" outburst directed at NGOs and individuals digging for the truth. However, the police did shut their elegant mouths by not offering anything of help to Suhakam or the family.

In his oral submission to the Suhakam panel (above), counsel for Koh's family, Jerald Gomez, raised seven important points about the pastor's disappearance. In his conclusion, Gomez claimed "not only did the police refuse to cooperate with Suhakam or the family, they also failed to make basic evidence available, which will not in any way disrupt their investigation. In fact, they went further to suppress material evidence, which should have been brought to the attention of Suhakam". 

More excruciating details can be gleaned from the book’s reading.

Beyond the cases of the "kidnapped four" including Koh, public safety in this area remains a problem in Malaysia, which has not ratified the UN convention against "enforced disappearances". Kidnappings are not new, but state-sanctioned abductions are a new worry. 

Who will be next? Suddenly, "They came for us...", the words of late German pastor Martin Niemoller have come alive to haunt Malaysians.

In truth, the Suhakam public inquiry concluded the missing four are victims of "enforced disappearance". What more does the government need to act and nab those culpable? Or is it waiting for a bolt of lightning to be goaded into decisive and reassuring action? 

It is glaringly clear there are elements in the police force who are colluding with extremists and being used as tools of terror. Nothing is as terrifying as having a loved one disappear without a trace.

The government must lead the way

When law enforcers turn criminal, it is time for a country’s citizens to get angry, very angry. And the new government, which was not involved then, ought to be at its angriest. It is a righteous act to get angry at the unrighteous and evil act of abducting citizens who are doing good for others.

The body language of the leaders is cause for concern.

The government must lead the way or face avoidable criticism and censure for its failure to enforce the rule of law. The government cannot pussyfoot around something that has alarmed the public and that must be punished. Or is the worth of human lives less than money, that the criminals of 1MDB are tenaciously pursued, but not the kidnappers of the missing four?

The plight of Koh’s family has galvanised a nation’s concern in their solidarity with Koh’s distraught wife, Susanna Liew (above), and their children, Jonathan, Esther and Elizabeth. 

From Penang to Johor and across the sea to Sabah, the darkness of Koh’s apparent professional abduction was illumined by many candlelight vigils, prayer gatherings and empathetic hearts. They are adequately described in the book with poignant photos.

Those behind Koh’s kidnapping must now rue their dastardly deed.

Instead of causing fear among Malaysians, it has resulted in their rallying together to support Susanna and her children. Prominent non-Christians like Maria Chin Abdullah and Ambiga Sreenevasan stood in solidarity with the aggrieved family from the onset of their ordeal. 

Thomas Fann, of NGO Engage, assumed in a press statement in May 2017 that the abductions were "enforced disappearances". It is also the public perception.

The book is divided into six parts and is eye-opening reading. It also provides a list of "Who’s who", facilitating the reader to follow the trail of events involving those people.

Part 1 dives straight without ado into the abduction. Many Malaysians have become familiar with how it happened.

The sudden appearance of a "mysterious stranger" lends credence to the role of plotters, but whose identities were unclear. It is almost providential someone saw it all, but police investigations seemed to look the other way, as witness testimonies later attest.

Part 2 digresses into Koh’s younger days - how he became a believer of Jesus Christ and was delivered from a bad gambling addiction, how he met, courted and married Susanna, and the birth of the community work of Harapan. The photos, many of them in colour, and one of Koh and Susanna in native attire, speak of a man who had become "all things to all men" to help them. 

Koh was an altruistic man, who put faith and action in good deeds, and did not deserve to disappear.

The chapter endeared me to a man with musical talent and a big heart for small and needy people, regardless of their race or religion. A true Malaysian and a man after God’s heart, I can safely say. Who else would care for those society ignores, especially HIV sufferers, and sacrifice his life for their welfare?

Raid created heated debates

Part 3 took a sinister turn and delved into the role of Jais (Selangor Islamic Religious Department). It was headline news when Jais gatecrashed a social event at the Dream Centre of the Damansara Utama Methodist Church (DUMC).

The illegal act (without a search warrant) was precipitated by a false report that Muslims were being proselytised. The raid created heated debate and false accusations against Koh and his work, and it took a royal decree to stop the incessant bickering and confusion due to the spreading of lies against Koh, Muslims being helped and the Harapan community. 

The book dispelled several lies, including one falsely claiming Koh was a DUMC pastor.

Part 4 describes the candlelight vigils (above) and solidarity of Christians in East Malaysia. The plot thickened with two red herrings, attributed to the police, that were meant to detract public attention from the "whodunnit" mystery. 

It describes the Baling shooting death of the owner of a car involved in Koh’s kidnapping. The red herrings merely added to the suspicion of conspiracy and cover-up.

Part 5 involves the Suhakam public inquiry and its hearing of testimonies from Susanna and others. Of particular interest was the eyewitness account of Roeshan Celestine Gomez, a law graduate who witnessed the abduction. This man is a hero in standing up for the truth and sticking by what he witnessed. 

Did Koh try to convert Muslims? The chapter gives the answer. Much of the police interviews honed in on uncovering information on Koh’s activities.

Part 6, the final part, reveals Suhakam’s decision and findings on police involvement. It made 10 recommendations.

It includes the submissions of the lawyers representing not only Koh, but three other missing persons namely, Christians Joshua Hilmy and his wife Ruth Sitepu and Muslim social activist Amri Che Mat.

Anyone who reads the accounts of events, especially the manner in which the police conducted their investigations, will conclude they leave much to be desired. 

The saying, "leaving no stone unturned", seemed to have evaded the police who did not take the initiative to look for neighbourhood CCTV camera recordings. That was done by Koh’s children, Jonathan and Esther, and Esther's friend Cheryl.

They spent painstaking hours going from door to door in the neighbourhood where Koh was waylaid and forcibly taken away in a black SUV. Sherlock Holmes could not have done a better job than the trio who turned sleuths in retracing Koh's movements in his car along the road where he was kidnapped. 

Find the truth, catch the culprits

On finding shards of glass near the crime spot they spied a CCTV camera they figured might have captured the incident. They approached the owners who, to their credit, sent the family the crucial video footage that the public have watched on social and online media.

The familiar images of the criminals in action were the result of their hard work, no thanks to the police. That evidence of a crime was left on the road begs the question: what were the police thinking? As accounts in the book revealed, one gets the impression the police were looking the other way.

Regrettably, the body language of the police and keeping the family in the dark did not bode well, especially for the Special Branch officers who were later indicted by the Suhakam inquiry.

When news broke of Koh’s abduction, I had posited in an article in Malaysiakini that it was the handiwork of trained professionals. It was staring the viewer in the face. Or was that intentional, perhaps to send a strong message. If so, it failed miserably.

Suhakam’s conclusion may have fallen short of deeming the kidnappings as state-sponsored. But nothing happens in the country without the "imprimatur" of those in power. The erstwhile government of Najib Abdul Razak has much to answer - or perhaps no one told him because he was too busy. Who knows the truth the public has a right to know?

The government of today under Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad has to find the truth, catch the culprits and bring them to justice. Otherwise, Malaysia faces a serious internal security breach with "terrorists" running around kidnapping targeted citizens. And Mahathir’s "rule of law" mantra will then sound like an empty gong.

In the final pages, Lee appeals for the truth that prompted him to put the question, "Where is Pastor Raymond Koh" in the form of a book. He and Ng have done a public service in dispelling the lies often used by troublemakers to disparage other religious leaders and communities. 

Today the slanderers are still hard at it, maliciously targeting the DAP and trying to tarnish it with false accusations of a religious nature. 

Koh did not want to be a martyr. Neither did the other missing three. But unless the police find them alive, blood will be on the hands of those the Suhakam inquiry indicted. 

It is a book every concerned citizen ought to read, be equipped with the facts and demand the government and new top cop on the job act without fear or favour.

More importantly, the integrity and competence of the Pakatan Harapan government is at stake. I quote Lee’s concluding words from the book:

“The final decision of Suhakam, fingerpointing at the police, in particular, the Special Branch, is made during the present government. Therefore, only this government has the power to uncover the truth. They are also accountable to the people that voted them in on principles of justice and eradicating corruption. They fail the people if they do nothing."

STEVE OH is author and composer of the novel and musical "Tiger King of the Golden Jungle". He believes good governance and an engaging civil society are paramount to Malaysia being a unique and successful nation.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.