Raymond Koh: Why was this Christian pastor kidnapped in a military-style ambush?

The whistleblower claiming Malaysian police, not vigilantes, were behind the kidnapping of Pastor Raymond Koh came as no surprise to his wife.

Susanna Liew has not seen her husband since his dramatic disappearance more than 15 months ago. On February 15, 2017, three SUVs surrounded the Christian pastor's vehicle as he left a highway and forced him to stop suddenly. Two motorbikes and two other cars followed, preventing other traffic from coming nearby. Eight men jumped out, circling Pastor Koh's car and forcing him to get out.

The highly professional operation took less than a minute. It was the last time Pastor Koh was seen.

Malaysian Pastor Raymond Koh has been missing for more than 15 months.change.org

More than a year later, with officials unable to bring any prosecutions, a police officer has reignited the furore around the kidnapping this month by claiming the order came from police's own special branch.

'A whistleblower, Sergeant Shamzaini Mohd Daud, has said that he wants to come clean and does not want to pay for the sins of others,' said Gurdial Singh, a lawyer representing Koh's family.

But for Susanna her suspicions about state involvement began long ago.

In an interview with Christian Today she describes first reporting Koh's disappearance to the police.

'I was questioned for five hours. I was very confused and traumatised by all that. They were asking questions about my husband's activities. "Did he make Muslims apostate? Did he convert Muslims?" Those kind of questions which I felt were a bit strange.

'They should be asking questions like how to find him. I felt it was not really related.

'Subsequently the following days they continued to ask me questions on the same line. I was quite fed up and angry. I just said I am not going ask any more question.

'They still had a chance to find him. So we did. We went door to door to find CCTV, to find cameras from the residents to see whether they captured anything. And we managed to find it.'

That footage has been hundreds of thousands of times online and shows the incident in full.

'It was very professionally done. I couldn't believe it when I first saw the raw footage.' says Susanna, explaining her suspicions about police involvement.

'I believe somebody powerful may have given the orders.'

Abductions are not uncommon in Malaysia. But kidnappers typically get in touch with their victims' families to demand a ransom. But Susanna has heard nothing from her husband since the kidnapping.

She is convinced the government is behind the military-style abduction.

When rumours began circulating that Koh's body had been found, the police chief inspector was quick to issue a rebuttal and say that it wasn't true, says Susanna. But there has been no response to the accusations of police involvement.

'There is just silence,' she says. 'It seems very fishy to me. Very strange.'

One figure at the heart of concerns is the former inspector general of police, Khalid Abu Bakar, who helped block inquires into the missing government funds and oversaw the investigation of Koh's kidnapping, among other abduction cases. Khalid retired last year but has promised to cooperate into an inquiry in to the case.

The motive for the kidnapping centres around Koh's Christian faith and particularly allegations that he tried to evangelise Muslims – a crime under Malaysia's strict Islamic legal system.

Three months after he disappeared allegations emerged that he had tried to convert some Muslim teenagers – a claim Susanna denies .

'It looks like an after thought to me. They are trying to bring charges to accuse him of doing something. It is so unjust and vilifying the victim. It is making him look so bad.'

Malaysia's newly elected Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, 92, could provide a source of hope for Koh's family.Reuters

As well as preaching the couple run a charity for those affected by HIV, including Muslims, and it is possible this was seen another factor in his arrest.

The case is being linked to other disappearances involving people seen as challenging the Islamic hegemony in Malaysia.

Pastor Joshua Hilmy, a convert to Christianity from Islam, was known to speak freely about his faith. He disappeared on November 30, 2016. A week before that Amri Che Mat, who is an Muslim but is accused of promoting Shia Islam as opposed to Malaysia's Sunni Islam, also disappeared.

But despite the spate of kidnapping, all of which have marks of government involvement, Susanna is convinced her husband is still alive.

'They haven't produced a body,' she says. 'If they wanted to kill him they would have done it quickly with less resources needed. 

Mahathir Mohamad, the former leader elected again aged 92 earlier this month, is one possible source of hope for Koh's family. The election brings to an end the nine-year tenure of Najib, who came to power in 2009 and whose reputation was tarnished by the 1MDB corruption scandal in which $2.6bn went missing. Mohamad's campaign forcused on human rights and there are hints he could bring reforms. 

Another possible opening comes in mounting international pressure on Malaysia around Koh's disappearence. Shortly after her interview with Christian Today, Susanna is flying to Singapore to promote her cause.

The persecution charity Open Doors is among a number of organisations asking supporterse to write to the Malaysian ambassador in the UK and the Malaysian ambassador in the US to urge a close look at these kidnappings. 

'I am hopeful but I have waited one and a half years and that is a long time for me. It is a long time for him to be separated from his family. He is not young. He is 64,' says Susanna. 

'Malaysia is a country with rule with law and order and no one should be kidnapped. No one deserves to be kidnapped and hidden away in some place where nobody knows. If he has done anything wrong against the law, we have the courts. He should have the right to counsel which is one fo the basic human rights.'