COMMENT | Coming in the wake of the hudud bill tabled before Parliament, the mysterious disappearance of Pastor Raymond Koh have raised concerns among the minority Christians in Malaysia.
The first foreign agency to respond to the news was ‘Voice of Persecuted Christians’, known under its portal name as Release International. It claimed Koh’s abduction was because of his church work.
Release International also claimed another pastor and his wife, who have not been named, went missing a month ago. Local Christian chat groups have identified this couple but police have neither denied nor confirmed it.
The UK-based Christian watch group pointed out that “Pastor Raymond … had previously received threats from jihadists.”
It also said, “Christians in Malaysia are increasingly concerned about the growing threat to religious freedom. Parliament is currently debating a bill proposing that parts of a strict Islamic penal code (hudud) are incorporated into the country’s legal system. Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak supports the bill, apparently to win favour among hardline Muslims ahead of next year’s general election.”
One day later a US-based Christian monitor, Mission News Network (MNN) gave the context to Koh’s abduction. It said Malaysia still has the reputation as one of the most liberal and tolerant Islamic countries in the world. How long that will last is unknown.<!–more–>
“Thousands of Muslim Malaysians rallied in the capital on Feb 18 to support the adoption of stricter syariah law, a proposal that religious minorities fear could infringe upon their rights.
“The prime minister has thrown his support behind a bill that will incorporate parts of the Islamic penal code, or hudud, into Malaysia’s existing Islamic legal system. It is slated for debate in parliament next month,” MNN said.
It also said critics of the bill warn it could pave the way for full implementation of hudud, which could disrupt the fabric of Malaysia’s multicultural and multi-religious society. It added that’s the backdrop behind the recent abduction of 62-year-old Pastor Koh on Feb 13, in less than 60 seconds.
‘Under pressure and under attack’
MNN cited another International Christian monitor, Open Doors. It quoted the monitor’s United States president and CEO Dr David Curry as saying, “It’s this boiling point that I think is coming to the Christian community in Malaysia. They’ve been under pressure and under attack; they need our prayers there.”
Curry also said, “The pressure is increasing with every step toward syariah.”
He added, “We don’t really know who kidnapped him, but we know he was an outspoken person of his faith. He was a pastor well known for trying to reach out to people and share his faith and live his faith.”
Curry said there are concerns over possible religious motivation behind the abduction.
“It’s not uncommon in some of these Asian countries for the police force to pick up people to interrogate them, without reporting it, and then releasing them later. That would certainly be the best-case option. I think his chances of surviving would be much higher.
“People are beginning to wonder, ‘Why are they not speaking?’ I don’t know the answer to that. No one knows the answer to that, but it shows you how toxic the situation is there in Malaysia right now for Christians and for religious minorities.”
The Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM), the country’s umbrella body for churches, has condemned Koh’s abduction, saying religious leaders should be spared from attacks or intimidation.
No one doubts the capability of the Malaysian police in investigating such cases.
Pastor Raymond Koh was abducted on the same day and about the same time as the assassination of Kim Jong-nam, 46, the estranged elder half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Travelling under another name, Jong-nam was assassinated at the KL International Airport’s low-cost terminal.
Within hours, the first of the two women suspects was arrested, based on CCTV images at the airport. The identity of the dead man was officially confirmed by Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who is also home minister, as well as by inspector-general of police (IGP) Khalid Abu Bakar.
Police have confirmed that Pastor Koh was abducted by unknown persons on Monday, Feb 13, in broad daylight – but it took them 10 days to decide to set up a task force to investigate the abduction.
Speaking on the matter for the first time since the incident, inspector-general of police Khalid Abu Bakar said, “So far we have found no clues.” When pressed further for an answer at a press conference, he retorted, “Please don’t say we are not doing anything.”
BOB TEOH is a freelance columnist and formerly secretary-general of the Confederation of Asean Journalists (1985-87).