Kuala Lumpur (AFP
It’s been three years since Susanna Liew last saw her husband – she and their three children still don’t know if he’s dead or alive.
But she will not give up the fight to find him.
Taken from his car by masked men and removed in broad daylight outside the Malaysian capital, there has been no trace of the Christian pastor Raymond Koh since 2017.
“I have this quest to find the truth and at least have a closure for myself and my family,” said the 63-year-old.
He is one of a series of disappearances of religious minorities in the predominantly Muslim country, which have fueled fears that a traditionally tolerant form of Islam will be eroded as extremists gain influence.
Police insist that case has been thoroughly examined: man charged, extortion and kidnapping, although his trial, which began in 2018, is still ongoing and the alleged accomplices remain at large.
However, a public inquiry concluded that “state agents” had probably uprooted Koh.
Liew risked her personal safety to speak up and keep the disappearance of her husband and others out of public view.
Her efforts were recently rewarded with an award from the United States government for her courage, but that did not bring her closer to obtaining answers.
Shedding tears, the devout Christian explains: “It is very difficult because we are frozen in grief. ”
Koh, then 63, was kidnapped in February 2017 as he crossed the bourgeois district outside of Kuala Lumpur where he lived.
Liew said the video surveillance footage of the incident was shocking.
– “Extreme views” –
“It was showing three big black SUVs, they did this, they blocked it behind and to the side,” she recalls.
“Someone came and broke the car window and took it out, put it in the other vehicle, and someone else got into his car, and they all left. It was only about 40 seconds. ”
The brazen kidnapping shocked multi-ethnic Malaysia, home to a large Christian minority, and sparked a series of candlelight vigils across the country.
Calls escalated as suspicion grew, the kidnapping was linked to his religious activities – Koh had previously had an argument with Islamic authorities and an NGO he co-founded was accused of seeking to convert Muslims – but official polls have progressed slowly.
The government-backed but independent Malaysian Human Rights Commission has investigated the disappearances of Koh and three other members of religious minorities.
The others were Shia Muslim activist Amri Che Mat and Christian pastor Joshua Hilmy and his wife Ruth. All four disappeared over a period of several months, from late 2016 to early 2017.
The country of 32 million people is 60% Malaysian Muslim, and most live in harmony with other ethnic and religious groups, but critics say the rampant conservatism has led to further discrimination against minorities.
Last year, the commission concluded that Koh and Amri – a follower of Shiite Islam, believed to be deviant by many in Sunni-majority Malaysia – had probably been kidnapped by the special branch of the police.
It is an intelligence unit that gathers information on security threats. In the past, critics have claimed that the police are working with religious authorities to target individuals accused of anti-Islamic activities.
Witnesses said the two were similarly kidnapped and suspected of activities against Islam. The commission has not completed its investigation into the Hilmys’ disappearances.
– ‘I have hope’ –
“I think it happened because there is a growing trend towards radicalism,” said Liew, adding the body’s findings in accordance with its own suspicions.
“Our concern is that teachers and religious students are sent to the Middle East for training, and that they return with these conservative opinions, extreme opinions.”
But Khalid Abu Bakar, who was the country’s police chief when the disappearances took place, accused the rights organization of laying a “wild accusation”, suggesting that the evidence he relied on would likely be inadmissible in court, reported the New Straits Times newspaper.
An accompanying driver was arrested and charged in 2018 on suspicion of kidnapping Koh and attempting to extort his son, but the trial is not yet over.
The commission has only an advisory role with the government but, following its conclusions, the authorities set up a working group last year to investigate the cases of Koh and Amri. This team requested more time to complete a report.
The police did not respond to AFP’s request for comment.
Liew has done everything she can to keep the attention to the cases, frequently calling on the authorities to do more and, in February, her family brought civil action against the government.
In March, she received an International Women of Courage award from the United States Department of State for fighting on behalf of religious minorities.
“It meant a lot to me because it shows me that the United States is serious about religious freedom,” said Liew.
Despite the passing of time, she has not given up on finding her husband alive
“We do not know where he is, what condition he is in and whether he is dead or alive,” she said.
“But I have hope, because I have faith. “
© 2020 AFP