Pastor Koh: Betrayed and abandoned

22nd Feb 2018

COMMENT | Feb 13 marked the first anniversary of the abduction and disappearance of Pastor Raymond Koh, a gentle and humble man who dedicated his life to serving others.

Christians gathered at his church in Petaling Jaya to mark the anniversary; it was a sombre occasion, a time to pray, reflect and remember.

Pastor Koh’s wife, Susanna, and his children spoke of their anguish and their struggle to patch together a life without husband and father. What an inspiration they are! They model for us all what it means to have faith and trust in God in the midst of trial and uncertainty.

Prayers were also offered for three other religious workers who have likewise disappeared without a trace – Pastor Joshua Hilmy and his wife, Ruth, and Amri Che Mat.

Months after the four were reported missing, we are left with more questions than answers.

Why were these four religious workers abducted and by whom? Where are they now? Who were the people who abducted Pastor Koh with such organisation, precision and teamwork (as seen in the surveillance video) that even one of the investigating officers apparently thought it looked like a police operation?

In the case of Pastor Koh, the police also seem to have got their priorities wrong right from the beginning, investigating the victim instead of the perpetrators, examining his actions instead of hunting down the criminals who abducted him.

Furthermore, as the Suhakam enquiry clearly showed, the case was handled with a degree of unprofessionalism that was surprising even by our standards.

If not for the surveillance video, the abduction would very likely have been dismissed as just another missing person case. Clearly the abductors, whoever they are, didn’t expect to be caught on video.

Extrajudicial detention?

And then, just when the Suhakam enquiry, the first real attempt at uncovering the truth, was making headway, the authorities shut it down by conveniently charging an ex-Uber driver, Lam Chang Nam, with the abduction.

The fact that he had been previously cleared by the police, had no apparent motive and clearly did not have the wherewithal to carry out such a sophisticated operation, made their actions all the more suspect and inexplicable.

As a spokesperson for Citizens Against Enforced Disappearances (Caged) put it, “The arrest and charge against Lam for kidnapping Koh is both shocking and illogical and begs belief.”

In the light of all this, it’s hard not to conclude that something very odd is going on, that the authorities are not being transparent for some unknown reason.

Some rights groups have even gone so far as to speculate that the “state may be directly or indirectly involved” and that the missing persons may be “victims of extrajudicial detention.”

Whatever it is, it has shaken our faith in the justice system.

Worse still is the sense of betrayal and abandonment that Christians feel over the whole affair. Throughout these long and stressful 12 months, our political leaders have said almost nothing about the case – no outrage, no reassurances, no expressions of concern. Shamefully, they couldn’t find it in their hearts to offer even sympathy to Pastor Koh’s family.

A citizen is abducted from our streets and made to disappear and they have nothing to say about it.  It’s like they are so reluctant to say anything about the case or promise action because it might not be politically expedient to be seen to be too concerned about a missing Christian pastor.

Rising anti-Christian sentiment

Christians have, in fact, watched with growing dismay the rising tide of anti-Christian sentiment in the country. False accusations and outright lies designed to demonise Christians and make them out to be enemies of state have been levelled against the Christian community, and the government has said or done nothing to stop it.

It is also very worrying that the police themselves reportedly participated in seminars about the so-called Christian threat to the nation. If there is clear evidence of a threat, the police should take action under our laws rather than stoke anti-Christian sentiment behind closed doors.

Can Christians expect justice from, or be treated fairly by, a police force that views them with suspicion?

Where will all this lead to? Will Malaysia’s Christians end up being persecuted like ‘Nasara’ (a pejorative Arabic word for Christians used by Islamic State) in the Middle East?

Christians are now hoping that our new police chief will do all in his power to help locate Pastor Koh (and the others) and that the home minister will give Christians the same assurance he recently gave to the government of Indonesia following the cruel and tragic death of an Indonesian maid that “there will be no cover-up in the investigations…” and that the government “will not protect anyone involved….”

In the meantime, we will continue to remember and pray for the missing religious workers. And if Pastor Koh, Pastor Hilmy and Ruth do not return, if nothing further is done to uncover the truth, history might well come to see them as Malaysia’s first Christian martyrs.

DENNIS IGNATIUS is a former ambassador.

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