Where is Raymond Koh?

Susanna Koh and daughter Esther(Photo: Open Doors)

Four years on from his abduction, the family of Malaysian pastor Raymond Koh is still seeking answers to who abducted him and why.

On 13 February 2017 Pastor Raymond Koh was driving near his home in Petaling Jaya, West Malaysia, when his car was surrounded by three vehicles. He was forced out of his car, bundled into another car and driven away.

Footage caught on CCTV cameras shows at least 15 masked men, wearing black, taking part in the operation.  Four years later, his family and friends still don't know where he is, or even if he is still alive.

Raymond Koh's wife, Susannah, told Christian anti-persecution watchdog Open Doors about the day the pastor was abducted.

"I received a lot of missed calls. When I saw the calls, I quickly responded," she said.

"I found out my husband had missed some very important meetings, which is not his usual self. He is very punctual, very committed and consistent. That raised a panic in me."

Susannah filed a missing person's report in the police station, but, to her shock, she was questioned for five hours over the disappearance.

"They asked me about my husband's activities. My husband and I started a social organisation - we worked among the poor, the needy, people infected with HIV AIDS and single mothers. Raymond was reaching out to people of all races of all religions.

Raymond Koh with his family before his abduction(Photo: Facebook/Everybody Loves RK)

"By the strength of the Holy Spirit I was able to exert my right and emphasise that their job is to look for my husband and not to spend time questioning me," she said.

Susannah was clear about the motive for her husband's abduction: years earlier, Pastor Koh was accused of proselytising Muslims and received bullets in the post as a threat.

In Malaysia, it is illegal to evangelise Malay Muslims, and the constitution prevents Malays from converting to other religions. Churches are often monitored by the government to ensure they are not reaching out to Muslims.

Over the years of leading a Christian ministry, the pastor earned respect and love from his congregation and beyond thanks to his selfless character and his support to the most in need.

"Raymond once said he could survive on three pairs of shirts and trousers, and he really did!" Susannah says.

"He liked to help people in need, would lend his car, money and would not expect anything from them.

"Once he came home without a shirt and when I asked what happened, he said he had given it away to a homeless man whom he'd found on the street."

Reluctant investigators

The police began an investigation into Raymond Koh's disappearance. However, it seemed to the Koh family that the investigation into the pastor's disappearance was moving so slowly due to his Christian faith.

Susanna said, "Most of the police investigators are of the Muslim faith. If they were to do something to help, they would be seen as anti-Islam, so that is why I think they are taking their hands off."

Three others were abducted around the time of Raymond Koh. Christian husband and wife, Joshua Hilmy and Ruth Sitepu, were last seen in November 2016, while Shia Muslim activist, Amri Che Mat, was abducted in a highly professional operation very similar to that of Raymond Koh.

In the end it wasn't the police but his children who found CCTV footage of the abduction, after they went door-to-door around the neighbourhood to see if any security cameras had captured the incident.

The footage itself raises interesting questions: the whole operation took less than a minute and was conducted with military precision. All of which implies a coordinated attack by trained individuals.

In October 2017, The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) started a public inquiry into the disappearance of Raymond and three others who had disappeared in similar circumstances.

However, several months later the Commission reported that they had been told by the police to stop the public inquiry into the disappearance of Raymond Koh. The police had apprehended a suspect and were charging him in court for the kidnapping.

The Commission did, however, resume the investigation the following year.

Breaking rank

It was that year that a police whistleblower came forward with a shocking allegation.

The source implicated the Bukit Aman, a special branch of the Malaysian police force, in the abduction. They claimed that the abduction was done with the full knowledge and approval of the then-Inspector General of Police, Khalid Abu Bakar.

The informant also made it clear that Raymond Koh was targeted for having a minority faith. Should these allegations prove true, the police and possibly several members of the Malaysian government would be guilty of seriously undermining the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia, committed perjury and obstructed justice.

The whistleblower later backtracked on some of his statement. Many suspect that this was out of fear of a backlash from the perpetrators.

In April 2019, the Human Rights Commission announced that the panel was of the unanimous view that  Pastor Koh was a victim of an enforced disappearance executed by State agents.

The chair of the panel, Dato' Mah Weng Kai said at the time: "The direct and circumstantial evidence in Pastor Raymond Koh's case proves, on a balance of probabilities, that he was abducted by State agents, namely, the Special Branch, Bukit Aman, Kuala Lumpur."

The Malaysian Government announced that a special taskforce would investigate the involvement of the State in the pastor's abduction.  The taskforce was due to present a report by December 2019. While his family were hopeful that the taskforce would shed light on the case, the investigation was dissolved without an outcome.

The pastor's wife told Open Doors: "The task force didn't come up with anything and, to quote one of the social activists in our country, this was a bogus task force, it was for show.

"Because of not getting any result, our family filed a civil suit against the police and government last February. We are now waiting for the trial date in the High Court."

Never alone

Susanna Koh said that, in parallel with dealing with the police and waiting for the state investigation results, Koh's family were surrounded by the support of Malaysian and worldwide Christians. They reached out to the Prime Minister of Malaysia with a petition to find the pastor, while similar petitions have been submitted to governments in different countries.

"Looking at pastor Koh's abduction, in hindsight I've seen a lot of good come out of it too," said Susanna Koh.

"The church became very united, the discourse about the freedom of religion, persecution, religious minorities became perceptible in Malaysia.

"Even non-Christians came to prayer vigils to stand in solidarity with his family, some people volunteered to be our lawyers."

Waiting for the trial date to be announced, Susanna Koh hopes that the rule of law will prevail and the family will finally see the truth revealed.

Malaysia is number 46 on the 2019 World Watch List, Open Doors' annual ranking of the 50 countries where Christians face the most extreme persecution. To learn more about how Christians are being persecuted around the world and what you can do about it, please visit https://www.opendoorsuk.org/