Photo contributed by Esther Koh
“When the State makes citizens disappear,
A nation becomes another-
As a polluted river
Is no longer the same river.
To the task of washing the water clean,
To the painful process of a state admitting guilt,
To the torturous path of people telling the truth
To each other, my life is now committed.”
Ladies and Gentlemen,
1. That was an extract of Basil Fernando’s poem “Looking for Raju” in support of the 2018 International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances. Enforced disappearance is a grave affront to the human conscience and has been described as one of the most painful crimes against humanity and a source of unimaginable pain for many families who often live their lives without knowing what had happened to their loved ones.
2. We are still looking, and we are still waiting, for the return of Pastor Raymond Koh. He is a common human being just like us, whose family is waiting for his return every single day.
3. Before I speak further, I would like to thank Pastor Raymond Koh’s family for having me here today. The Bar will continue to do its utmost to seek justice and truth, not only for Pastor Raymond Koh, but also for Amri Che Mat, Joshua Hilmy and Ruth Hilmy. This is our assurance.
4. Pastor Raymond Koh just turned 65 two weeks ago. For three consecutive years, he could not spend his birthday with his dearest family. In broad daylight, he was abducted by a group of men along Jalan SS4B/10 in Petaling Jaya. The search for Pastor Raymond Koh must continue, and the truth must be uncovered. This is the justice which Pastor Raymond Koh and his family deserve, and we must give it to them.
5. Pastor Raymond Koh is a man of faith. He served the community by forming Harapan Komuniti, a non-profit organisation that undertakes social and charity work among marginalised and underprivileged communities. He is a good man. While religious persecution might be the reason for his abduction, as suggested by the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia’s (SUHAKAM) panel of inquiry, his religious belief has nothing to do with the reason we are here today.
6. Instead, here today, we stand in solidarity with Pastor Raymond Koh and his family, because Pastor Raymond Koh is very much a Malaysian, whose right is endowed under the Federal Constitution, and whose right is guaranteed under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
7. “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty save in accordance with law”, “all persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law”, “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”, I can go on reproducing the articles in the 2006 International Convention for Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which remains unratified by our government.
8. But the main point is this; in light of the enforced disappearance cases, race, gender, nationality and religious beliefs do not matter. Nothing justifies the enforced disappearances of Pastor Raymond Koh, Amri Che Mat, Joshua Hilmy and Ruth Hilmy. This is not a police state. This is a country where rule of law reigns supreme. As fellow Malaysians, we owe the victims and their families closure. Similarly, as citizens of this country, all of us deserve to know the truth behind the abductions, especially in New Malaysia, where we strongly believe in and have been promised a transparent, accountable and clean government.
9. This remembrance today serves as a stark reminder that justice has not been served, even 1,000 days after Pastor Raymond Koh’s enforced disappearance. We all know how, where and when Pastor Raymond Koh disappeared. The CCTV footage that emerged in social media offers a clear, terrifying account of what transpired.
10. We all know who caused Pastor Raymond Koh’s disappearance. As I mentioned earlier, public inquiries into the disappearance of Pastor Raymond Koh and Amri Che Mat were held by SUHAKAM. The panel, comprised of Dato' Mah Weng Kwai, Professor Dato' Dr Aishah Bidin and Dr Nik Salida Suhaila binti Nik Salleh, ran from 19 Oct 2017 to 7 Dec 2018. 16 witnesses including eight police officers attended the hearing of inquiry on Pastor Raymond Koh’s disappearance.
11. Family of Pastor Raymond Koh, SUHAKAM’s officers, the Bar Council and the Royal Malaysia Poilce (PDRM) made submissions.
12. Against the backdrop of dubious and contradictory testimonies by various police personnel, including by former Inspector General of Police, Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar; possible fabrication of evidence by the police; and even a concerted effort to derail the inquiry proceedings by charging an individual and claiming that SUHAKAM did not have any jurisdiction to proceed with the inquiry on disappearance of Pastor Raymond Koh, the panel delivered its Report on 3 April 2019.
13. The panel concluded that the enforced disappearance of Pastor Raymond Koh and Amri Che Mat was carried out by agents of the State namely, the Special Branch, Bukit Aman, Kuala Lumpur. Their enforced disappearance was followed by a refusal by the State to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fact or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law. The panel also found that the PDRM did not take adequate steps to investigate the enforced disappearance of Pastor Raymond Koh and Amri Che Mat.
14. The decision is a damning indictment of the powers exercised by the Special Branch of the PDRM, which is privileged, and protected from scrutiny and accountability. More worrying still was the thread of actual testimony and circumstantial evidence that implicated abuse of power by certain individuals within state Islamic religious authorities.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
15. So we now have answers to the how, where, when and who concerning Pastor Raymond Koh and Amri Che Mat’s disappearance. However, their whereabouts remain unknown. Their perpetrators remain at large.
16. As stated in the SUHAKAM Inquiry Report, Special Branch police officers were involved in the enforced disappearance of Pastor Raymond Koh and Amri Che Mat. The Bar takes the position that the police officers who abuse their position and powers are not excusable and immune under the law. To quote the oft quoted adage, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Special Task Force
17. The SUHAKAM inquiry panel recommended that a special task force be set up to re-open and re-investigate the enforced disappearances of Pastor Raymond Koh and Amri Che Mat. The inquiry panel also suggested that the special task force should comprise independent investigators to be appointed by the Attorney General and the appointees should not have any conflict of interest.
18. Notwithstanding the recommendation of the inquiry panel, a Special Task Force was formed on 26 June 2019 by Minister of Home Affairs, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, and led by retired High Court Judge Abdul Rahim Uda. Among others, the Special Task Force consists of Datuk Muhammad Bukhari Ab Hamid, a former legal advisor of the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (JAKIM) and Datuk Zamri Yahya, the director of the PDRM’s Integrity and Standard Compliance Department (JIPS). PDRM’s former legal unit chief Dato’ Moktar Mohd Noor was initially in the special task force but later withdrew voluntarily. Azian Umar from the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (“MACC”) and Datuk Roger Tan Kor Mee, a senior Member of the Bar and current Bar Council Member, were subsequently appointed to the Special Task Force.
19. The Bar welcomes and commends Dato’ Moktar Mohd Noor’s decision to withdraw from the Special Task Force, so that the Special Task Force remains independent, impartial and fully empowered to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation into the enforced disappearance cases. The Bar also welcomes subsequent appointees who come from the MACC and the Bar. However, the general public perception is that the Special Task Force is tainted with conflict of interest due to the inclusion of a former legal advisor of JAKIM and the PDRM JIPS’s director. The Bar hopes that the special task force will carry out their responsibility and duty independently without interference; and without fear or favour.
20. The Special Task Force has been given six months to make recommendations to the Government. It was reported on 16 Oct 2019 that the Government was still awaiting the findings of the Special Task Force. Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin called on the public to accord the Special Task Force more time to probe the disappearances of Pastor Raymond Koh Koh and Amri Che Mat. The Bar expects the investigation to be completed swiftly and promptly as justice is long overdue. Further delay would only be detrimental to the fate of the victims and the hope of their families.
21. The Bar further views with disappointment that to date, the Terms of Reference (ToR) of the Special Task Force has not been made available publicly. The Bar urges for immediate release of the ToR, so that the probe can be completed in a transparent manner. The public has the right to know.
Recommendations of the Inquiry Panel
22. With regard to the other recommendations of the inquiry panel, the Bar echoes the inquiry panel’s call to set up an Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC).
23. The Bar has consistently and insistently called for the establishment of the IPCMC, which would operate as an independent, external commission tasked solely to receive and investigate complaints of misconduct and abuse made against the PDRM, ever since its establishment was proposed by the Royal Commission to Enhance the Operation and Management of the Royal Malaysia Police (“Royal Commission”) in its report published in May 2005.
24. The IPCMC will change the perception of many people especially those who had bad experiences with bad cops. However, the previous government declined to implement this recommendation, and had set up the Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission (“EAIC”) instead. One of the observed weaknesses of the EAIC is its slowness in investigating complaints of police misconduct. While that shortcoming has been mitigated somewhat, a continuing flaw is the EAIC’s inability to ensure that its findings are acted upon by the plethora of law enforcement agencies placed within its purview. This has severely reduced the effectiveness of the EAIC.
25. On that note, the Bar lauds the tabling of the IPCMC Bill in the Dewan Rakyat on 18 Jul 2019. The Bar notes that the bill has been referred to a Special Select Committee in Parliament (“SSC”) for further deliberation. This is the first time that a bill has been referred to an SSC for consideration. The Bar looks forward to positive recommendations by the SSC.
26. According to deputy de facto law minister Mohamed Hanipa Maidin this week, the conduct of Inspector-General of Police (IGP) would be subjected to scrutiny under the proposed IPCMC. The Bar supports this development. Excluding the top cop from being scrutinised for his misconduct would be unconstitutional.
27. The SUHAKAM inquiry panel also recommended that the authorities:
(1) respect the freedom of religion as a fundamental human right;
(2) clearly demarcate the powers of the police and state Islamic religious authorities;
(3) reform the standard operating procedures of the police, to make the police more cooperative, open and transparent; less suppressive and concealing of evidence; and better and more quickly deal with cases of missing persons; and
(4) accede to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as well as the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, and amend our domestic laws accordingly.
28. The Bar strongly urges the Government to adopt and immediately implement the inquiry panel’s various recommendations without any delay or excuse.
Trial of Lam Chang Nam
29. It was reported that the trial of Lam Chang Nam will resume next month. He was charged with the kidnapping of Pastor Raymond Koh. The Bar hopes that the trial of Lam Chang Nam will be conducted fairly and the truth will prevail.
Panel of Inquiry to look into Joshua Hilmy and Ruth Hilmy’s disappearance
30. We also note that SUHAKAM will soon decide on the composition of the panel of inquiry to look into Joshua Hilmy and Ruth Hilmy’s disappearance and the timeline of such inquiry. The Bar looks forward to receiving the particulars of the inquiry once they are finalised.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
31. We still have a lot of work to do. To ensure that the government will acknowledge enforced disappearances do exist in Malaysia, to ensure that the government will ultimately reveal the truth about the victims’ disappearance, to ensure that the PDRM are doing their best to locate and secure the safe release of the victims, to ensure that the perpetrators will be brought to justice, and to ensure that the government will adopt and implement the SUHAKAM Inquiry Panel’s recommendations to prevent enforced disappearances from happening again. It is for these reasons that we are gathered here today.
32. Our hearts and thoughts go to the victims and their families. This should not happen in a modern and democratic society governed by the rule of law. The traumatic experience caused to the victims and their family members will be everlasting. To learn that someone you know personally has just disappeared into thin air, with no news of their whereabouts and fate for close to three years, is a physical, mental and emotional burden that weighs more than anyone could ever know.
33. We will continue to fight for the victims and we will wait for their return. We will not forget what happened. No one present here today will. We must stay strong until the truth is uncovered and justice is served. We must not give up. We will not give up. We must hope for a miracle.
34. Pastor Raymond Koh, may you return home safely.
Roger Chan Weng Keng
16 Nov 2019