Disappearing Christian Leaders in Malaysia: Targeted Attacks Against Religious Minorities?

June 9 , 2017: The disappearance of three Christian leaders in Malaysia has raised fears that they may have been victims of a targeted attack against the country’s religious minorities.
Pastor Raymond Koh was abducted on Feb. 13 in broad daylight near Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Facebook/Open Doors HK

The disappearance of three Christian leaders in Malaysia has raised fears that they may have been victims of a targeted attack against the country's religious minorities.

Pastor Raymond Koh, one of those who disappeared, was abducted on Feb. 13. As reported by GH, CCTV footages showed three SUVs blocking his car on the highway, forcing him to stop, and group of at least 15 men taking him and shoving him into one of the vehicles.

Everything took place in about 40 seconds in broad daylight near Kuala Lumpur while one of the men held a camera and filmed what his companions were doing. The manner in which the crime was done suggested the abduction was carried out by professionals.

The theory that the pastor might have been kidnapped for ransom was soon replaced by suspicions that his disappearance could have been state sponsored, especially when months after he went missing, authorities still could not say where he is or who kidnapped him.

His wife, Suzanna Liew, admitted she could not overlook the possibility that the state could be withholding information about her husband's disappearance.

"Do I think the state is linked to this? It is a difficult question to answer," she said, according to The Guardian. "But can I rule out the possibility that people in power are linked to this or know more than they are admitting? No, I cannot."

Pastor Raymond's daughters told the outle they had lost trust in the police, not only because they offered no information about their father and told them not to speak to the media, but most importantly for conducting an investigation about their father's preaching to the Muslims.

Earlier this year, the pastor had been accused of converting people from Islam to Christianity.

Prior to Pastor Raymond's kidnapping in February, two persons went missing in November: Pastor Joshua Hilmy and his wife Ruth. They were last seen near Kuala Lumpur and were reported missing only in March. Hilmy is a convert from Islam.

On the same month the couple disappeared, social activist Amri Che Mat was taken from his vehicle. He had been accused of preaching Shia Islam, which is considered offensive in Malaysia where Sunni Islam is the official religion.   

Activist Peter Chong disappeared in April. The police said Chong was kidnapped in Thailand when he went there in pursuit of information about Pastor Raymond's abduction. Chong was gone for 11 days before he appeared in Malaysia.

"According to him, he had gone to Hadyai with the intention of meeting his source who will reveal more info on the disappearance of Pastor," Kuala Lumpur police chief Datuk Amar Singh Ishar Singh told Malay Mail Online.

"Upon reaching Hadyai he claims to be kidnapped there and brought to Pattaya. Upon release, he contacted his son who bought his return ticket," Amar Singh said.

Earlier in April, the Malaysian police said that of the five cases of disappearances, only that of Pastor Raymond was being considered as an abduction. The others were classified as missing persons, except for Chong, whom the police claimed to have fled the country during the days he disappeared.

"I see that it has been made viral, all these people have been kidnapped," Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar said, according to another report from Malay Mail Online.

"I want to warn those who want to confuse, this is not true. These five people have not been kidnapped. We have proof only one person has been abducted, that is Pastor Koh."

Human rights activist Thomas Fann believes the cases could be "enforced disappearances."

"We say that there is a high probability there have been enforced disappearances, which means that the state may be directly or indirectly involved," he said, according to The Guardian.

"We have a reason to believe that there is a relationship because they are all faith-based workers."

Fann founded the Citizen Action Group on Enforced Disappearances or CAGED in response to the abductions.

Sevan Doraisamay, executive director of the human rights group SUARAM, shares the same sentiments as Fann that the disappearances are either a form of state-sponsored extra-judicial detention or the work of a highly organized criminal group.

However, the latter seems less likely than the former, particularly with Malaysia's skilled security forces.

Amnesty International Malaysia executive director Shamini Darshni Kaliemuthu expressed alarm over the abductions, adding that such cases are a "new phenomenon" in the country.

"We have seen that the space for religious freedom has been shrinking over the last few years," she said. "This is a new phenomenon, which was previously unheard of. It's very frightening."

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