The long road to justice for Raymond Koh
It is five years to the day since Malaysian pastor Raymond Koh was abducted from his car near his home in Petaling Jaya, West Malaysia.
CCTV footage showed him being bundled into a vehicle and driven away by 15 men all masked and dressed in black in what appeared to be a professional operation.
In a sign of the police's sluggish response, the CCTV footage was obtained by Pastor Koh's family - not the police - after they went door to door in the area where he disappeared searching for answers.
Pastor Koh has never been seen or heard from again since that fateful day on 13 February 2017, and subsequent investigations have never yielded any exact answers as to his whereabouts or wellbeing.
After a public inquiry, the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) concluded that Pastor Koh was a victim of an enforced disappearance executed by State agents, namely the Special Branch called Bukit Aman.
The Malaysian government launched its own special taskforce to investigate Pastor Koh's disappearance but has never released its findings.
His wife, Susanna Koh, who is being supported by Open Doors, has never given up hope that she will one day be reunited with her husband.
Five years on, she continues to campaign for justice not only for Pastor Koh but several others from religious minority backgrounds who have disappeared in similar circumstances.
Mrs Koh speaks to Christian Today about why her husband might have been targeted in this way and why she will never give up her fight for justice.
CT: Going back to before 2017, before Raymond disappeared, were there any warning signs that something like this might happen?
SK: One event that comes to my mind is a fundraiser dinner we held in a room at the church for our organisation, Hope Community. There were various stakeholders present as well as people from different ethnic groups, races and religions. Officers from the Islamic religious department turned up and put a stop to the meeting. Some of the Muslims in attendance were taken in for questioning and made to attend re-education sessions, and there were some accusations in the newspapers that my husband was trying to proselytise Muslims, but they could not find any evidence for this. The gathering took place in a church meeting room - not the sanctuary - but it was just a fundraising dinner.
Prior to that, in 2011, we both received death threats. Raymond received two bullets in the mail and I received an envelope with white powder. A warning letter written in red said that they wanted to kill us. After that we took a short break from ministry but Raymond felt that he needed to continue. He said he didn't feel like God was telling him to stop.
CT: How would you describe your husband?
SK: Raymond said he could survive on three pairs of trousers and shirts, and he gave away the rest! He loves to reach out to the poor and needy because he himself came from a poor background and so he understands what it's like to be poor and needy. That's why he started doing social outreach, working with single mothers, those affected by and infected with HIV or AIDS, and children from poor families. We continue his legacy but we can't fill his shoes - his shoes are too large for us!
CT: Can you think of any reason why Raymond would have been abducted in this way?
SK: It was a shocking event because even though the majority of Malaysians - about 60 per cent - are Muslim, Malaysia has always been quite a modern country. But I wonder if it could be an indication of a slide towards extremism, where people may have been sent to the Middle East or elsewhere for religious training and then come back with extreme views that are then permeating into the civil service, the police and other government agencies.
CT: Five years is a long time and you still haven't really got any answers. How hard is it to live with the not knowing - not knowing where he is, whether he is ok and whether he is even alive?
SK: It's not easy. Living with the uncertainty has left us frozen in grief. We can't move on because we don't know what actually happened. We don't know his whereabouts or his wellbeing. It's difficult because there is this tension we have to hold - on the one hand, we have to have the hope that he is alive and that we will be reunited with him. On the other hand, we have to be prepared for the fact that he might have been martyred. But whatever the circumstances he is in, I believe God is with him and he is in the presence of God. God is with Raymond and Raymond is with God.
CT: Did you ever doubt God or feel your faith wavering?
SK: A lot of people ask me that question but surprisingly I've never doubted God. God is there all the time. He never left us and even though what happened is a tragedy and an evil act and a crime against humanity, yet I can see how God has worked through this situation and how he brought Christians together to pray. All of this is like incense to God - it's glorifying God.
Many Christians started writing letters and sending cards to me - in fact I have thousands from all over the world. Their reaching out like that did a lot for me. It lifted my spirits when I was down, especially on key dates like Christmas, Chinese New Year or anniversaries - these are the hardest times. But these letters and cards always included Scripture and this is what lifted me up - the powerful word of God. It really spoke to my heart and transformed me and gave me faith. I could see how faith arises out of the darkness and the dryness of the desert.
CT: It seems like the authorities and government have tried to sweep this under the carpet and not taken any responsibility. Do you feel let down by them and is there a message you have for the Malaysian government or some action you would like them to take?
SK: I am utterly disappointed with the Malaysian police for their failure to find the perpetrators, and with the government for not holding their own law enforcement agencies accountable for their extrajudicial activities. On this anniversary we are demanding justice and the release of not only Raymond, but the others who have been similarly disappeared. We want them to reveal the truth about what happened and Raymond's whereabouts and wellbeing. We also want them to make public the special taskforce report. The report was produced but it has never been made public.
CT: You commenced legal proceedings against the government in 2020. What stage are you at with this?
SK: The trial dates have now been set, which is good news because it means they haven't thrown out our case. So we will be going to trial from 19th to 22nd December 2022 and 5th to 8th June 2023.
CT: It's already been such a long battle and there's still a long way to go yet. How can the global Church continue supporting you through this very tough fight that you have on your hands?
SK: I am really grateful to the international community for their prayers and support. On a practical level, they can join us on the anniversary on Sunday by lighting a candle and taking a moment to remember Pastor Raymond. We will not forget. The authorities want us to forget but we will be relentless and we will not give up our fight for justice, truth and righteousness.
Please also continue to speak up in your own countries, perhaps write to MPs or the Prime Minister to pressure the government of Malaysia to be accountable and get to the bottom of his abduction. And finally, please pray for the trial dates and that we will have a good and upright judge who will uphold justice and truth, and who will not be afraid.