Malaysia called to probe police over disappearances

The Malaysian human rights commission has called for a probe into the disappearances of a Christian priest and a Muslim Shiite activist after a public inquiry ruled they were probably abducted by the authorities for trying to covert of Sunni Muslims.

Amri Che Mat, who ran a social welfare charity, disappeared in November 2016 and Reverend Raymond Koh vanished in central Selangor in February 2017, while being investigated for alleged proselytising.

“Hands of the state are involved in these forced abductions,” inquiry chief Mah Weng Kwai said.

The national rights commission concluded this week, after a two-year inquiry, that the men were victims of “enforced disappearance by state agents” involving Malaysia’s special branch linked to the religious authorities and police.

It said their cars were both blocked by larger vehicles and they were apprehended by black-clad men in ski masks.

Amri was reportedly under surveillance by the Perlis religious police for purported Shiite teaching. Malaysia only recognises the Sunni wing of Islam and prohibits the Shiite branch, the second-largest Islamic group.

The police have not responded to the inquiry’s findings.

The findings prompted calls by rights groups, MPs and a Christian organisations for a government investigation. The inquiry can only make recommendations to the authorities and not order action.

“After the damning conclusion, the government can no longer bury its head in the sand. An independent and impartial investigation into the special branch’s involvement … must be immediately undertaken in order to determine [the men’s] fate or whereabouts,” said Sevan Doraisamy of the human rights group Suaram.

Amri’s wife, Norhayati Mohamad Arifin, said her husband had suffered a “heinous crime”.

“I want a fresh investigation and a search launched to find my husband,” Norhayati said.

Koh’s wife Susana Liew told the media: “There is no justification for such abduction. We want the culprits to be brought to justice.”

Parliamentarians are also asking questions.

“These kidnapping have raised fears of religious vigilantism in the country,” said liberal MP Charles Santiago. Fellow MP, Ram Karpal, called for the suspension of national police chief Mohamad Fuzi Harun, the special branch head at the time.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, 93, said the authorities would reinvestigate the disappearances if the rights body presented facts rather than just anecdotal evidence.

Mah, a retired judge who led the inquiry, placed the burden of proof on the government to prove the police were not involved. He criticised police unwillingness to cooperate, saying circumstantial evidence in both cases pointed towards official involvement. He described the abductions as “heinous and despicable”.

The Malaysian authorities are coming under scrutiny. Picture credit: Wikimedia