We have a government which either appreciates the extrajudicial work of the police or chooses to be in denial about enforced disappearances in Malaysia, says Citizens Against Enforced Disappearances (Caged).
30 August was the International Day for Victims of Enforced Disappearances.
Last year, to observe the day, Caged hosted a regional conference on enforced disappearances. We invited the foreign minister to give the keynote speech at a well-known hotel in Kuala Lumpur, to 120 attendees.
We did so because, while he was in the “Global Movement of Moderates”, funded by the Najib government and again, soon after he became foreign minister in “New Malaysia”, he made noises about Malaysia ratifying international covenants, including the International Convention Against All forms of Racial Discrimination.
We hoped that under him, Malaysia would be the second-last of the 57 Organization of Islamic Countries to ratify the convention. (Presently only Malaysia and Brunei have not ratified it.)
We hoped that under him, Malaysia would also ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances.
We hoped Malaysia would stop being a left-behind state. We hoped Malaysia would move into the ranks of enlightened nations who give more than lip-service to justice.
Saifuddin didn’t even bother to reply to us. Neither did he make any statement about the day. We expect he will remain similarly silent this year.
His silence is remarkable, since Malaysia, this year, joined the ranks of certified police states – states in which the government reserves the right to abduct and disappear “inconvenient persons”.
Malaysia joined the ranks of Argentina, Chile and Israel, when, on 3 April, the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia, Suhakam, concluded its 18-month inquiry into the disappearances of social activist Amri Che Mat and pastor Raymond Koh with a damning conclusion.
The Suhakam inquiry panel, comprising a retired judge of the Court of Appeal (Mah Weng Kwai) and two law professors (Prof Aishah Bidin and Nik Salida Suhaila Nik Saleh), wrote: “The direct and circumstantial evidence … proves, on a balance of probabilities, that [Amri Che Mat and Raymond Koh were] abducted by State agents namely, the Special Branch, Bukit Aman, Kuala Lumpur.”
In March, our cabinet warmly dispatched the minister for religious affairs to Christchurch, New Zealand, to commiserate with survivors of the brutal killings of members of a tiny minority, in two mosques.
The minister even held a “peace rally” in Kuala Lumpur in response to the Christchurch shootings. The de facto leader of PKR, “the Justice Party”, tabled an emergency motion in Parliament to debate the Christchurch shootings by a lone actor.
In April, our cabinet coldly disdained from even expressing shock at the abduction and disappearance by the state of an alleged Shiite social activist and a Christian pastor under the previous government. Our prime minister brushed off Suhakam’s conclusion as “based on hearsay”.
To date, the cabinet has not acted on the recommendation of Suhakam to appoint investigators to do the basic investigative work, which the police failed to do in the two cases. The original investigating officers apparently continue to have charge of the cases.
Instead, the home minister has appointed a bogus task force with no published terms of reference and with two members who have conflicts of interest. Appointees to the bogus task force even included a person who represented the police at the inquiry. Unlike the other two members, this member responded honourably to public clamour. He withdrew.
Worse, the bogus task force appears complicit in a bogus claim included in an appeal released by the police this week.
In the statement, the police claim Suhakam accused the police of not cooperating with the inquiry because one Saiful Bahari, a civilian employee of the police, failed to give evidence at the inquiry.
In truth, the investigating officer in Amri’s case was cornered into disclosing the identity of Saiful after a police whistleblower revealed that Saiful worked for the police in Kuala Lumpur.
The police even admitted to having approved an absurdly large number of leave days for Saiful in 2017 and gave conflicting testimony about what work Saiful did for them! Saiful worked for the police for 18 years.
Multiple cases of misconduct of police officers were indicated during the inquiry, including fabrication of evidence and making of false police reports. Yet the police disciplinary authority (JIPS) appears to have taken no action against any of the complicit officers.
Suhakam’s scope was restricted to the disappearances of those named in the inquiry’s terms of reference. We know others have been disappeared in Malaysia, including Turkish nationals whose “return” to Turkey by Malaysia has been publicly announced by the Turkish authorities.
So, we have a government which either appreciates the extrajudicial work of the police or chooses to be in denial about enforced disappearances in Malaysia, while clamouring for the safety of minorities in other nations.
30 August was a day of shame for Malaysia. Will it remain so next year?