Manjit Bhatia asks who bears the answers to the Malaysian-Chinese Christian preacher’s disappearance.
Eight weeks after the February 13 abduction of 62-year old Malaysian-Chinese Christian preacher Raymond Koh Keng Joo – in broad daylight on a busy outskirts Kuala Lumpur street – Malaysia’s police still claim cluelessness of his whereabouts. That’s in spite of nabbing a suspect six weeks ago who curiously, demanded only one-third of the $A29,500 offer for the pastor’s release.
Also curious: the kidnapping happened 70 meters from the Selangor state police building in Shah Alam. More curious still: it was filmed, as if the cameraman lay in wait, and the video was quickly uploaded to social media sites. By whom, nobody knows. Despite CCTV footage, Malaysia’s coppers can’t seem to identify the 10-15 criminals or their motive.
In Malaysia, where bigotry rules alongside traditional patrimonialism, the kidnapping hasn’t caused a ripple among Malaysians, who fear state retribution. Religious xenophobia has been fuelling political violence, especially as Muslims soon could be living under sharia and hudud – laws already before parliament.
So where is Koh? Is he alive? Or has he been killed? The case quickly became frigid. Police, however, are questioning Koh’s family and his “past”. Nothing unusual for Malaysia’s police to pass the buck. But its history of unexplained deaths in custody speaks volumes about the rise of institutional criminality. So, too, the link between police and Islamic authorities.
Most early speculations about Koh’s kidnapping can be ruled out, including ransom demand by common thugs, and rogue military elements or Islamic terrorists having kidnapped the Christian pastor. The earliest speculation – that Koh is being held in a government gulag, undergoing “re-education” prior to his release – is improbable. It will give Koh opportunities to speak out. And the beleaguered UMNO regime wouldn’t chance its crooked arm on more damning exposés.
It’s no secret Koh has been proselytizing Christianity to Malay-Muslims while providing basic needs to all races, not just Malays, through his Komuniti Harapan charity. The gravest accusation against him is his converting Malays – a definite no-no in Muslim-majority Malaysia. To deter Koh, Islamic authorities raided one of Koh’s charity fundraising dinners. Koh also received a bullet in the mail.
Though one persistent speculation about Koh’s kidnapping won’t fizzle – his abduction was a calculated operation. The criminals drove black SUVs with heavily-tinted windows – the sort favoured by Malaysia’s police. Several unmarked cars and motorcyclists accompanying the SUVs herded traffic procedurally like police.
The attackers wore hoods – attire favoured by police on such operations. Recall 1998 when former premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad ordered balaclava-clad police to invade the home of and arrest his ex-protégé Anwar Ibrahim. Recall also the murder of Mongolian socialite Shaariibuugiin Altantuyaa, who was blown up by army-grade C4 explosives in a jungle near Kuala Lumpur. The military-guarded explosives fell into her killers’ hands, two of whom were “high-level” police bodyguards to VIPs.
Malaysia’s police has form for a slew of abuses of power and criminalities – from unexplained and uninvestigated deaths in their custody amounting to murder and abuse of human rights to extortion, racketeering and unbridled corruption. Locals aren’t surprised by any of the police’s antics. In 2013, home minister Zahid Hamidi, to whom the police answer, praised the outlawed Malay criminals Tiga Line – without consequence to his position. It’s another sign of the growing criminalisation of Malaysia’s institutions by the ruling political elite and its doxy economic class.
But police wouldn’t have acted alone against Koh. JAKIM has been headlining Malaysia’s turn towards ultra-conservative religious intolerance. JAKIM is the federal Islamic religious department under premier Najib Razak’s purview. JAKIM is renowned for its political ideology and racist recklessness. Like its lesser sister organisations JAIS and MAIS, JAKIM, with Najib’s blessings, has been actively pushing for the greater Sunni Arabist Islamisation of Malaysia, bankrolled by Saudi largesse.
JAKIM has banned Christians from using the term “allah” – apparently the exclusive preserve for Muslims. Since the 9/11 terrorists attacks, non-Islamic religious practices in Malaysia have been frowned upon, scrutinised and gradually proscribed through threats by Umno-funded ultra-rightwing racists, like dumping cow heads at Hindu temples and vandalising churches.
Besides the police, Islamic bodies also help to anchor the Najib regime’s soft authoritarianism. In 2015 JAKIM’s junior partner JAIS, which operates in Selangor state and is answerable to the sultan, raided a Christian society warehouse. It confiscated mainly Malay-language bibles while police provided JAIS protection. JAIS escaped criminal charges but issued an edict against Christians using the “allah” word.
Koh’s proselytisation of Christianity to Muslims and their conversion is no greater a crime than the UMNO regime’s band of Sunni Islamic “authorities” engaged in “body snatching”, mostly of deceased Hindus who are then proclaimed as Muslims and whose names show up on electoral rolls to protect the Najib regime’s moral bankruptcy and political illegitimacy and criminality. Police and JAKIM bear answers to Koh’s disappearance.
Manjit Bhatia is an Australian research scholar who specialises in the economics and politics of Asia and international political economy. He is also research director of AsiaRisk, an economic and political risk consultancy.