After Altantuya, Malaysia mustn’t play down ‘enforced disappearance’ claims

Norhayati Mohd Arifin and Susanna Liew attend the announcement of Suhakam’s public inquiry findings into the disappearances of pastor Raymond Koh and Amri Che Mat in Kuala Lumpur April 3, 2019. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Norhayati Mohd Arifin and Susanna Liew attend the announcement of Suhakam’s public inquiry findings into the disappearances of pastor Raymond Koh and Amri Che Mat in Kuala Lumpur April 3, 2019. — Picture by Hari Anggara

COMMENTARY, April 6 — In October 2006, two elite police commandos took Mongolian Altantuya Shaariibuu to a deserted spot in Shah Alam, Selangor.

There, they not only shot her twice but blew her body up with explosives they had been able to procure without much apparent difficulty from the police’s armoury.

They said they acted on orders — whose specifically is not yet proven — but their audacity and methods give credence to their claim.

Murder was what the country called it when the incident first came to light, but today a more suitable phrase has entered the popular vocabulary.

“Enforced disappearance.”

The term sounds ominous but it is a rather tame euphemism for what might have happened to activist Amri Che Mat, pastor Raymond Koh, pastor Joshua Hilmy and his wife Ruth Sepiu, as well as the missing Saiful Bahari, if what befell Altantuya is any indication.

It was most unfortunate the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) chose to release the damning findings of its inquiry on Wednesday, which forced it to share the stage with the sensational trial of former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

The start of Najib’s trial overshadowed the matter then, but Malaysia must not let “enforced disappearance” quickly fade from its attention, not when no one remains directly implicated in the five abductions and no information is available on whether any of the taken are still alive.

Amri’s wife, Norhayati Mohd Ariffin, was sanguine about seeing him again but Koh’s spouse, Susanna Liew, was more realistic when she pointedly asked on Wednesday if they were in fact widows.

Given that Amri was abducted in late 2016 and Koh three months later in February 2017, Norhayati’s hopes would require their abductors to have kept them alive for well over two years.

With no ransom ever demanded for and no verified communication ever made by the victims of the enforced disappearance, Liew’s question is extremely valid.

Equally valid are questions about the government’s gumption to investigate its own law-enforcement apparatus.

Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Mohd Fuzi Harun was the head of the Special Branch, the police intelligence unit Suhakam named in its report, at the time of the abductions.

Consequently, this meant the person heading the unit suspected of involvement in the enforced disappearance is also the same responsible for investigating those abductions. In the two years, no concrete information ever emerged.

This juxtaposition must be the tipping point for the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) Putrajaya is still hemming and hawing over.

Before that, however, it is also concerning that the government sees no need to at least put Fuzi on leave pending his retirement in May.

Not only must justice be done; it must also be seen to be done. Choosing not to put Fuzi on garden leave will introduce interminable suspicions on the outcome of any inquiry, royal or otherwise, into the matter.

Putrajaya is complaining of ominous forces and conspiracies trying to block its ambitious reforms such as ratifying the Rome Statute, but in frankness, the low-hanging fruit is sitting right there.

It only has to reach out and take it. If it wants to, that is.