By Ali Nufael and Hadi Azmi
The Malaysian government will open a new probe into the disappearances of a Christian pastor and a Muslim activist, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said Friday, two days after a public inquiry concluded that the duo was probably abducted by state agents, including those linked to the national police’s special branch.
The parliamentary-backed National Human Rights Commission, in announcing the conclusion of its fact-finding mission, urged the government on Wednesday to create a task force that would launch an investigation into the “enforced disappearance” of Pastor Raymond Koh Keng Joo and social activist Amri Che Mat.
But Mahathir said investigations would only begin after the appointment of a new inspector general of police or IGP.
“We agreed that a new investigation will be conducted after the new IGP is appointed because now many allegations are thrown at the current one, Mahathir said, referring to Inspector General Mohamad Fuzi Harun. “So, it is better for the new IGP to investigate this matter.”
Hours after the commission released its findings, Mahathir described the report as “hearsay,” according to state-run news agency Bernama.
On Friday, Mahathir used the same word again when he talked about the commission, which is also known as Suhakam,
“We will wait until we will have a change in IGP and will set up a group to study whether there is substance in the hearsay evidence used by Suhakam,” he told reporters in the administrative capital Putrajaya.
Fuzi, who was appointed as inspector-general on Sept. 4, 2017, will be on mandatory retirement when he turns 60 on May 4. Fuzi was the Special Branch director when the two were reported missing while they were being investigated for allegedly proselytizing Muslims.
Khalid Abu Bakar, who was the IGP at the time of the duo’s disappearances, told reporters on Thursday that his statement given to Suhakam in October 2017 remained the same.
When he appeared before the human rights commission, Khalid admitted that there was a possibility of a mistake in police procedures, as they had delayed the process of taking testimony from witnesses in Koh’s case.
Suhakam, which was established by the Malaysian parliament in April 2000, is a government institution that conducts fact-finding investigations on complaints of rights abuses. It said it launched its public inquiry on the two abductions after receiving statements from individuals.
“We received complaints from family members [in] both cases. That’s why we decided to start the inquiry,” Suhakam officials told BenarNews in an email Friday.
The 95-page Suhakam report said Koh and Amri were abducted in similar ways by men wearing black face masks. Their abductions were swift and, in Koh’s abduction, was captured on surveillance cameras. The inquiry could not determine what happened to the two men after they were last seen.
Koh was snatched in broad daylight from a road in the suburbs of Kuala Lumpur on Feb. 13, 2017, when men on SUVs and motorcycles forced his car to stop.
Amri, who is from Perlis, was last seen on Nov 24, 2016. His disappearance may have been religiously motivated based on allegations that he was spreading Shia Muslim teachings, according to local media reports.
Several rights groups earlier said Koh might have been targeted because religious authorities believed that he was spreading Christianity to Muslims.
Ray Sherman in Kuala Lumpur contributed to this report.