Lawyer: Resume Pastor Koh inquiry to check negative perceptions

6th Mar 2018

KUALA LUMPUR: The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) was today urged to continue its public inquiry into the disappearance of Pastor Raymond Koh to allay negative public perceptions of the authorities.

Gurdial Singh Nijar, the lawyer for the missing pastor’s family, said the subject matter of the inquiry and that of the current court case were different.

He said the inquiry was to determine if Koh’s case was an enforced disappearance and if the state was involved, while the matter in court concerned abduction.

Lam Chang Nam, a former part-time Uber driver, has been charged with kidnapping the pastor.

Gurdial said aborting the case would feed public perception that the authorities are involved and do not want the inquiry to proceed.

Suhakam halted its inquiry on Jan 16 after learning that Lam had been charged, citing Section 12 (3) of the Suhakam Act 1999.

The section states that during an inquiry into the infringement of the human rights of a person, if the allegation becomes the subject matter of any proceeding in any court, the commission shall immediately cease the inquiry.

Gurdial said the court would determine whether or not Lam committed the physical act of abduction.

However, it would not decide the question of the inquiry, which was whether the state had authorised, supported or acquiesced in the disappearance of Koh, he added.

“The focus of the inquiry is to determine if the state is complicit, (and) it would be those organs of the state that are involved in law enforcement, namely the police,” he said during the oral submissions at Suhakam headquarters.

“The case has attracted considerable public interest, both local and international. If unresolved, it could engender sectarian misunderstanding.

“This inquiry is entrusted with a critical role to establish the truth in its crucial mandate of protecting and promoting human rights in Malaysia.”

Gurdial said the inquiry might have to stop, not because of Section 12 (3), but because there were no more witnesses if the police witnesses refused to come.

Suhakam commissioner and former Court of Appeal judge Mah Weng Kwai, who chaired the inquiry panel, suggested that the matter could come under the Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission (EAIC).

EAIC observers at the inquiry today only presented an oral submission to cease the inquiry.

Gurdial said there were still many unanswered questions.

He said the inquiry needed to establish any breach of criminal, civil or human rights laws, identify persons or agencies responsible for such breaches, what administrative directive or procedures or arrangements had contributed to such breaches, and whether the police had taken adequate steps to investigate the case and recommend measures or guidelines to be taken.

Gurdial also said the human rights of the family was something the inquiry should consider, not just Koh’s.

He cited cases which concluded that family members of victims were also victims under human rights laws.

Mah ordered supplementary submissions for the inquiry be handed over in one week, saying if there was a need for parties to be present, they could be submitted by March 19.

A decision by the panel on whether the inquiry should resume will be made shortly after that.

Mah asked all observers to take three things into consideration before submitting their supplementary submissions.

“Please prepare statutory implications, constitutional questions and proposed areas of questioning (for the remaining witnesses). Also look into the implications of Lam’s alternative charge (extortion) and how that may come into play.”

Koh, 63, was abducted from his car by a group of more than 10 men in a convoy of vehicles on Feb 13 last year.

CCTV footage showed at least three black SUVs were involved in the abduction. Many speculated that his abduction might have been connected to his alleged attempts to spread Christianity, although his family dismissed such claims.

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