The following speech was given by HAKAM President, Dato’ Dr. Gurdial Singh Nijar, at the memorial held for the 1000th day of Pastor Koh and Amri Che Mat disappearance, on 16th November 2019.
1000 days of disappearance
This event marks one of the most tragic developments in the law and order and governance history of the country. It has introduced a word in our vocabulary that was completely alien to us. The word: “enforced disappearance”. Even lawyers are slowly coming to terms with what it really encompasses. Stripped of legalese it means that the State (through any of its agencies) abducts a person and makes him disappear.
What is this function about? It is a reminder – a stark reminder – of how low we have spiralled down into a terrible abyss in our law and order framework. It mars the governance and Rule of Law ethos that New Malaysia is seeking to establish as part of its reform agenda.
Let me recount some significant milestones and events in the incidents.
- There was a certain amount of inertia by the authorities when the initial disappearance was reported on the same day shortly by a witness to the abduction – a law chambering person Roshan. Only the strenuous efforts of the children Esther and Jonathan yielded the smoking gun – a video that showed a 50-second professionally-executed abduction operation by a convoy of 7 vehicles – replete with 15 or so masked baclava clad personnel. And in the morning in a well-known residential area.
- The follow up seemed to lack the rigour and robustness that our special branch and police have a reputation for. Each time the investigations ended in an un-penetrate-able blank wall.
- To its credit, it was SUHAKAM that took up the cudgels to initiate hearings into the inexplicable disappearances of our fellow human beings.
- The hearings were characterised by some extraordinary events. The more significant ones:
- Early on in the hearing, there was a threat to open investigation papers against the lawyers for misleading the enquiry into implicating the police. This ended with an apology by the police when it was established that the alleged misleading evidence was an extract from the webpage of the police.
- Midway through the hearing, at a critical stage as evidence was mounting showing complicity, the then IGP issued a letter to say that SUHAKAM cease the hearing as they had now found a person – one Lam Chang Nam – which their investigations showed had kidnapped the good Pastor. Along with several others at large. This letter was on 15 January 2018. The SUHAKAM Act does say that once criminal proceedings commence its hearings and proceedings should cease.
- What was remarkable about this dramatic turn of events was that high police officials had testified earlier on oath that the special task force had established that Lam was a liar who was trying to extort money from the family by falsely alleging that he had information where to find the Pastor. And was being prosecuted for that.
- Former and then IGP Tan Sri Khalid said that Lam was not involved in the abduction. And that the abduction was tied up with some group in Thailand.
- It took sometime but we successfully convinced SUHAKAM to continue with the enquiry. On the basis that the charge against Lam and the issue of enforced disappearance were different. The latter was about whether or not the state (or any agency) was involved in the abduction, regardless of who had carried it out. SUHAKAM delivered a comprehensive and remarkably lucid judgment on this point.
- This charge against Lam: There is an incredulous paucity of information on the pace this case against Lam is proceeding. And a distinct lack of publicity. He is charged under section 365 of the Penal Code, which reads: Whoever kidnaps or abducts any person with intent to cause that person to be secretly and wrongfully confined, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to seven years, and shall also be liable to fine. This implies that the police investigations show that Lam has secretly confined the person. What and where?
- SUHAKAM found that:
- Both Amri and Pastor Koh were victims of enforced disappearance;
- The abduction was executed by or with the support of state agents -the Special Branch;
- Both were targeted for allegedly being anti-Islam.
- SUHAKAM’s long and thorough inquiry had established the ‘what’. And ‘how’. What remained was the ‘who’; who authorised it and who carried it out.
- The logical follow-up should have been to carry out an independent and thorough investigation focused on who perpetrated it and flushing out the culprits; and taking appropriate action.
- However, the government at first dithered, then appointed a taskforce whose membership raised grave concerns; and finally after the removal and resignation of some members, the taskforce seems to be on track to conduct and conclude their work.
- Nonetheless there are feedbacks of disquieting features as to the way the inquiry is being conducted. As a preliminary observation there seems to be no publicity as to its proceedings. What happened to the requirement for transparency and accountability?
As to other facets – prudence being the better part of valour – we need not air here as there could well be potential legal redress contemplated if there is dissatisfaction with the process and outcome of the taskforce in its investigation into the clear and damning findings of SUHAKAM.
1000 days of an unsolved clear crime is a grave blot to any functioning democracy. The government must leave no stone unturned to get to the bottom of this and restore Pastor Koh and Amri to the fold of his family and friends – which include all of us gathered here today.
While I have the floor, may I also add that as President of HAKAM, the National Human Rights Society (incidentally founded by our first and third Prime Ministers), and on its behalf we add our voice and commitment to the quest for the search for truth and justice in maintaining and upholding human rights; which includes our utter abhorrence and condemnation of this crime of ‘enforced disappearance’.
May this 1000 days’ event trigger a fresh resolve and impetus to banish from our body politic and country the scourge represented by the enforced disappearance of Pastor Koh and Amri.
Gurdial Singh Nijar (Dato’, Dr.)
16 November 2019