Raymond Koh turns 63 today, but almost nine months after his abduction there is still no news of the Malaysian pastor.
Koh was kidnapped in broad daylight by masked men driving black 4x4s in Petaling Jaya, near Kuala Lumpur, on 13 February.
The whole incident, which lasted less than a minute, was captured on CCTV, but despite an early report of a suspect being arrested, progress on the case appears to have come to an abrupt halt.
Indeed, Koh’s family were incensed when they learnt in May that, rather than solely pursuing his captors, Malaysian police were also investigating whether Koh had been proselytising Muslims. While freedom of religion is enshrined in the Malaysian constitution, the government forbids proselytism of Muslims.
Koh’s wife, Susanna, recently appeared at a public inquiry into his disappearance – and the disappearances of two other Christians (from a Muslim background) and a Shia Muslim (also a minority belief in Sunni-majority Malaysia) – where she testified that her husband had always been very careful to remind staff at his charitable organisation that they were not to proselytise, though she said the charity was “not linked to any religion” and was “not a Christian entity”.
“Raymond specifically informed the volunteers not to preach. In our orientation for volunteers, we told them that we cannot talk about religion,” Susanna Liew, who is 61, told the inquiry, organised by the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM).
“As far as we know, there are no complaints. So I presumed there was no preaching, as we have not received any complaints,” she added.
The inquiry is being chaired by Suhakam’s commissioner, Datuk Mah Weng Kwai, who stressed that it was neither a criminal nor civil trial. “The whole idea is to arrive at truth and justice,” he said.
Liew also confirmed that she and her husband had been regularly harassed by Malaysian officials since 2011 – when religious authorities raided a charity event they were holding at a church – and had received threats, including two bullets in the post, the same month of the raid.
She said they had also been stopped for questioning several times by immigration and Special Branch officers when entering or leaving the country. Usually it was for a few minutes, but once questioning lasted for almost an hour, she told the inquiry. She said she had even considered emigrating to Australia because of the stress.
“But my husband loves this country and he wanted to stay in Malaysia,” she said.
Two weeks after his abduction, Raymond Koh’s son, Jonathan, said he feared his father had been murdered as there had been no ransom demand, even though the family had offered a reward of RM100,000 (about $22,500).
Jonathan told the inquiry the 2011 raid had been “still in the back of his [father’s] mind” but that he had not been aware of any threats to his father, other than an unknown call in Arabic. “It was with music and some words in the background. In Arabic, ‘Allahu akbar’ [Allah is the greatest],” he said.
Meanwhile Liew told the inquiry she had been informed by police that the registration plates on the vehicles used in the abduction were fakes.
“We asked whether the police have traced the car, since they could get plate numbers of those cars,” she said. “They said those were fake numbers. There were no records. No such number in car registration records.”
A student who witnessed the abduction also testified at the inquiry, recalling the moment he “stumbled” upon the abduction while he and a friend were driving to a crematorium.
Roeshan Gomez said his friend started to record the incident on her phone until an “Indian man”, who seemed “agitated”, pointed at her, at which she put the phone down.
“I reversed my car but he continued to come at us,” Gomez recalled of the incident, during which traffic was brought to a standstill.
“Do I think the state is linked to this? It is a difficult question to answer. 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.”
The former Inspector-General of Police, Khalid Abu Bakar, admitted the police had been too slow to interview the first witness to the abduction, losing valuable time, and that this was a lapse by the police.
Gurdial Singh, who represents the Koh family, pointed out that it was Koh’s children instead of the police who obtained CCTV recordings of the abduction – from the houses nearby.
“They are ordinary citizens doing the work the police should have done,” he remarked to Abu Bakar, who agreed that this was not acceptable conduct by the investigators.
The police also told Jonathan Koh that the mobile phone signal from Koh’s phone was still available up to three hours after he was abducted, in Taman Mayang, in Petaling Jaya.
Several candlelit vigils have been held in recent months as Malaysia’s Christians have hoped and prayed for Koh to be found. A petition was set up at change.org – so far signed by 7,000 people – demanding the authorities do more to find him.
There was even speculation the authorities may have been involved in his kidnapping.
“Do I think the state is linked to this? It is a difficult question to answer,” said Susanna Liew in an interview with the UK’s Guardian in June. “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.”
Human rights activist Thomas Fann told the Guardian there was a “high probability … the state may be directly or indirectly involved” in the kidnappings of Koh and the other two Christians and Shia Muslim.
“We have reason to believe that there is a relationship because they are all faith-based workers,” he said.
But Malaysian police have rejected the accusations, with Inspector-General Khalid Abu Bakar saying: “Do not make such accusations without evidence. If you have any, come forward and give it to us. We have to investigate. Not just the abduction but also the report that [Koh] was converting Muslims.”