Kuala Lumpur: Malaysia's government was urged Thursday to reinvestigate the disappearances of a Christian pastor and a Muslim activist after a public inquiry concluded the duo were abducted by the police special branch over matters against Islam.
Amri Che Mat, who ran a charity group, disappeared after he left his home on the night of Nov. 24, 2016. The Rev. Raymond Koh disappeared in broad daylight in central Selangor state on Feb. 13, 2017, while being investigated for proselytization of Muslims.
The National Human Rights Commission on Wednesday concluded after a two-year public inquiry that direct and circumstantial evidence showed the men were victims of "enforced disappearance by state agents" involving the special branch.
It said the men had been targeted by religious authorities and police and abducted in similar fashion: their cars were cornered by several four-wheel drive vehicles before they were swiftly seized by men in black.
It said Amri was under the watch of Perlis religious authorities for allegedly spreading Shiite teachings. The government recognizes only the Sunni branch of Islam and prohibits all others including Shiites, the world's second largest Islamic group.
The findings have stunned Malaysians and raised a chorus of calls from rights groups, lawmakers and a Christian body for a new investigation to find the truth and punish the perpetrators.
"After the (commission's) 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 (Amri and Koh's) fate or whereabouts," said Sevan Doraisamy, executive director of rights group SUARAM.
The National Evangelical Christian Fellowship said in a statement that the government must reopen the investigation into the "heinous injustice" against the two men and that police can't be allowed to do as they please without following the rule of law. Apart from Koh, Muslims-turned-Christian preachers Joshua Hilmi and his wife Ruth Hilmi also mysteriously disappeared six days after Amri in 2016. The commission is still evaluating evidence to decide if it should conduct a public inquiry into the Hilmi case.
"These kidnappings have raised fears of religious vigilantism in the country," said lawmaker Charles Santiago, who described the commission's findings as "chilling." Santiago and another lawmaker Ram Karpal called for national police chief Mohamad Fuzi Harun who was the head of the special branch at the time to be suspended.
Other NGOs and a former civil servant group demanded the government set up a police oversight body to ensure that police are accountable for their action and to regain public trust.
Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad told reporters late Wednesday that the government will reinvestigate if the rights commission has evidence to back up their findings, and not just hearsay. He noted that the disappearances occurred under the watch of the previous long-ruling coalition that was defeated in last May's election.
He also said that Fuzi, who is due for retirement soon, will be allowed to do so and that a new police chief could investigate him later.
The former home minister in charge of police, Zahid Hamidi, denied ordering police to abduct the men. Fuzi has declined to comment. Former national police chief Khalid Abu Bakar denied the special branch was involved and said Thursday he stood by his comments to the commission. (AP)