Last week, the Suhakam panel investigating the disappearances of Pastor Raymond Koh and Amri Che Mat delivered a courageous, groundbreaking, earth-shattering, bone-chilling verdict. In a damning indictment of the police, the panel concluded that there was “direct and circumstantial evidence” that they were “abducted by state agents, by Special Branch.”
Gross abuse of power
Attention was also drawn to the role of former IGP Khalid Abu Bakar in possibly “fabricating evidence, misleading investigators and attempting to derail the proceedings.” An NGO – Citizens Against Enforced Disappearances – went so far as to accuse Khalid of lying to the panel. We’ll have to see if he takes up their challenge to sue them.
That such a man could occupy the highest law enforcement office in the land is indicative of how low we have set the bar on integrity in public service. It should also tell us that after 60 years of UMNO-BN rule, some of our institutions are rotten to the core and can no longer be trusted to act professionally.
The Suhakam verdict also underlines, once again, why the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) is needed now more than ever before. Until we have a truly independent commission staffed by people of the highest integrity to investigate police abuse, Malaysians will never be truly safe. The IPCMC will be the next big test of the government’s credibility and commitment to genuine institutional reform.
The shocking attitude of PH leaders
As devastating as the panel’s findings were, it came as no surprise to most Malaysians who have long suspected official involvement in the disappearances. What was shocking, however, was the lackadaisical attitude of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government, a government which came to power on the promise of reform and respect for human rights.
An egregious crime has been committed – Malaysian citizens have been kidnapped and possibly murdered by agents of the government – and PH leaders appear unfazed and unconcerned.
Prime Minister Dr Mahathir’s first response to the panel’s findings was to dismiss it as “hearsay.” And now, he is saying that perhaps the next IGP could look into the matter. Does he seriously think that this is an acceptable option, that the police can be expected to investigate themselves in a fair and impartial manner?
Home Minister Muhyiddin Yassin was no better. The best he could come up with was a vague statement that “if there is a need, then we will reopen investigations.” In the meantime, he said he was “waiting” for the official report from Suhakam and would have to “study” it further before deciding what to do.
For heaven’s sake, it’s been nearly two years since the disappearances, two years in which the police as well as the home ministry have done next to nothing. Why didn’t he, upon taking over the home ministry last year, demand immediate action? Can there be any doubt that if Suhakam had not had the courage to press the issue, the home ministry would have happily swept the whole affair under the carpet.
The silence of other PH leaders was also noticeable. In opposition they were ardent defenders of human rights; in government they appear to be mute witnesses.
The government’s nonchalant response to the panel’s findings will only strengthen the view that a cover-up was orchestrated at the highest levels of government, a cover-up which continues even now with the PH government. It is simply not credible that the government does not know the truth; what is more likely is that the truth is so sordid, so abhorrent, so unpalatable that even the prime minister is unwilling to expose the full measure of its ugliness.
Whatever it is, it not how we expect our government to respond. A government truly committed to democracy, human rights and the rule of law would have been outraged by the actions of its agents and would have needed no persuasion to proactively and thoroughly investigate the disappearances.
We must not allow the government’s indifference to define this issue. The least we can do is to make sure that they understand our outrage – outrage that our fellow citizens have been kidnapped and possibly murdered, outrage that those who took an oath to uphold the law might have participated in egregious crimes, outrage that the government we elected to clean up the mess of the previous government is now behaving exactly like them.
Suhakam with the support of the Malaysian Bar and other civil society groups is now calling for the establishment of a special task force to reclassify, reopen and reinvestigate the disappearances of Amri Che Mat, Pastor Raymond Koh and others and to look into police involvement in their disappearances. It’s the right thing to do and the government must do it without further delay. The families of the disappeared have a right to know what happened to their loved one; their country owes them that.
[Dennis Ignatius | Kuala Lumpur |8th April 2019]