KUALA LUMPUR, Mar 3 — A sister-in-law of missing pastor Joshua Hilmy told a Human Rights Commission of Malaysia’s (Suhakam) inquiry today that his family was initially dissuaded from bringing up his disappearance with the Indonesian Embassy here.
An Indonesian NGO assisting the family of Joshua’s wife Ruth Hilmy nèe Sitepu, who disappeared alongside her husband on November 2016, also said they had strongly considered bringing up the case to Indonesian president Joko Widodo if all other alternatives have failed.
Kindergarten teacher Ram Ram Elizabeth Sitepu, 48, from Nambiki, North Sumatra in Indonesia, said their lawyer, only known as one Miss Huey, had been contacted by the Malaysian police in early 2018.
“From what I understand, the police apparently told Miss Huey to not contact or notify the embassy just yet, as they wanted to look for my sister first,” she said during the fourth day of the inquiry into the couple’s forced disappearance.
The embassy was eventually notified by the Sitepu family of Ruth and Joshua’s disappearance on February 24, 2018.
In the course of her inquiry, chaired by Suhakam commissioners Datuk Seri Hishamudin Yunus, Jerald Joseph and Madeline Berma, Ram Ram also revealed her family was aware that Joshua was formerly a Muslim by birth.
“He told us when he came over for the traditional marriage ceremony to Ruth in Medan, sometime in 2006,” she related, referring to Joshua.
“As he told us, he was already a Christian for some time before he met Ruth and decided to marry her.”
The kindergarten teacher also broke down during her testimony, saying that Ruth’s disappearance has been emotionally agonising for her family.
“Ruth is human, and has family in Indonesia who miss her. If she is guilty, then punish her according to the law, for we are still waiting for her to return to us,” Ram Ram wept.
The sisters are two of eight children from a family originally Christian, but five of Ruth‘s siblings have since embraced Islam, including Ram Ram herself.
Her younger brother Iman Sitepu, 39, is also a Muslim. The palm oil factory worker, also from Nambiki, said Joshua had mentioned in passing that he was being threatened, while on a visit to his in-laws in 2009.
“He said even though he was being threatened, he was not scared of it,” he told the commission.
When asked by Hishamudin as to why a report was not lodged with the Indonesian police, Iman said he did not see the need to as by then such things were a common occurrence.
However, Iman also added that when he informed his family members of Joshua and Ruth’s disappearance shortly after finding out, he also found out from his maternal uncle and Joshua’s godfather Benas Bagun that the threats against the pastor had increased in severity by 2016.
Indonesian commission thanks Suhakam, vows support
Meanwhile, Indonesia’s Commission for the Disappearance and Victims of Violence (KontraS) said it will continue to assist the Sitepu family in finding a resolution to Joshua and Ruth’s disappearance.
“We have already lodged a report with the Indonesian Foreign Affairs Ministry, and the Law and Human Rights Ministry, as well as the National Human Rights Commission,” said KontraS coordinator Yati Andriyani.
She thanked Suhakam for conducting the inquiry process, adding it is one of the important steps to resolve the case for the family.
“It is vital to know the whereabout of the victims, which we hope the authorities in Malaysia and Indonesia follow up on this, instead of merely collecting testimonies.
“Both sides have to recognise that the governments almost failed to resolve this case, as it is their responsibility to find out what happened to their citizens,” she said.
Yati hoped the pressure put on the Indonesian authorities would eventually be effective, as it wishes to work out all possible options first.
“If we can determine no progress is forthcoming, then we would strongly consider bringing Ruth’s case up with the president of Indonesia himself, if need be,” she said.
Joshua, who was believed to be a Malay-Muslim who converted to Christianity, and Ruth were last seen on November 30, 2016 and subsequently reported missing on March 6 the following year.
Previously, Suhakam also conducted an inquiry into the abductions of two other activists — Pastor Raymond Koh and Amri Che Mat — and concluded that they were the victims of “enforced disappearance”.
Suhakam concluded in its inquiry then that the police’s Special Branch was involved, based on witness testimony as well as footage of Koh’s abduction that was caught by a nearby surveillance camera.