Cases of missing pastor, other nationals chill Malaysia

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Kuala lumpur, April 12 (IANS) The cases of a missing pastor and several other nationals have surfaced in Malaysia, the media reported on Wednesday.

Pastor Raymond Koh went missing on February 13 when he was exiting a highway in the leafy suburb of Kelana Jaya just outside of capital Kuala Lumpur.

At first, it appeared to be a case of possible kidnapping but later more reports of missing Malaysians began to surface, BBC reported.

A widely circulated CCTV clip showed a convoy of black SUVs and motorcycles swooping down on Koh’s car and boxing it in by the side of the road.

According to the video, several men then jumped out and ran to Koh. There was a flurry of activity, and the convoy moved off — along with his car. It was the last time anyone saw him.

These incidents have been connected in an “unprecedented” spate of disappearances, which have mystified Malaysia and raised fears of religious vigilantism.

The police said they have been investigating the CCTV clip.

“The operation was very well planned. They knew who he was, where he was going, and probably had been tracking him,” Koh’s son Jonathan told the BBC. “It was very professionally executed.”

Koh’s family said it was no ordinary kidnapping, and that “religious elements” took the pastor in an act of “vigilantism or terrorism”.

Koh runs a non-government organisation called Harapan Komuniti (Hope Community) here, which helps the poor, single mothers, and drug addicts.

“He’s passionate, he loves people, he loves God,” Jonathan Koh son.

Raymond Koh’s organisation was in 2011 probed by Malaysia’s Islamic authorities. It was accused of attempting to convert Muslims when the organisation hosted a party with Muslim attendees at a church. The allegations were later dropped.

Apostasy is an offence in Muslim-majority Malaysia.

Koh remained a target of online rumours and even received two bullets in the post shortly afterwards, his family said.

It has emerged that several people had lodged a police report against Koh, alleging that he tried to convert Muslims to Christianity in January.

“He would never ask anyone to leave Islam,” Jonathan Koh said.

“His alleged proselytism is not an excuse for kidnapping. If he did anything wrong, he should have the right as any citizen to trial.”

The police said they were pursuing three angles: Koh had “personal issues”, extremist groups were involved, or that he was kidnapped for ransom.

They did not respond to the BBC’s request for comment.

Amid the media blitz over Koh’s disappearance and the video clip, stories about other missing Malaysians began to emerge.

All of these cases were recent disappearances and many remain unexplained.

Peter Chong, a social activist and former city councillor, disappeared last weekend near Kuala Lumpur. Police have since said he was seen crossing the border into Thailand.

Joshua and Ruth Hilmy, a Pastor and his wife, were last seen near Kuala Lumpur in November.

Muslim social activist Amri Che Mat was snatched from his car in November in Perlis state.

His wife has denied allegations that he was spreading Shia Islam, which is banned by religious authorities in Malaysia.

There is no evidence these are in any way linked but in the absence of concrete information, many have come up with their own theories, including that the authorities may have had a hand in all this.

The “unprecedented mysterious” vanishings has led to “public perception and speculation… of forced disappearances”, said the Malaysian Bar, using a term which usually refers to state-sponsored abductions.

“It is shocking and outrageous that a growing number of Malaysians could inexplicably disappear and not be found for days, weeks and months.”

The country’s top police officer last week told citizens to “please shut up” and on Wednesday told the media that there “was no connection”.

Others believe religious vigilante groups may be responsible.

Malaysian Muslims practise a moderate version of Sunni Islam, but in recent years the country has seen the rise of vocal Islamist groups.

Authorities have arrested dozens of suspected extremists. Last year Malaysia saw its first attack by the Islamic State militant group.

The Malaysian Bar said they raised “alarming doubts” about the country’s security.

Koh’s disappearance in particular has sent a “worrying signal” to Christians, said Hermen Shastri, general secretary of the Council of Churches of Malaysia.

“It’s a question on our minds, and some churches are worried it may be a trend… where those involved in activities related to the poor [are targeted by] vigilante groups,” he told the BBC.

–IANS

py/vt

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