KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 20 — Lawyer Andrew Khoo has today pointed to the police’s lackadaisical attitude towards investigating Pastor Joshua Hilmy and wife Ruth Sitepu’s enforced disappearance when they had only interviewed two witnesses almost three years after the couple was reported missing.
In an oral submission to the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia’s (Suhakam) public inquiry on the case, the human rights lawyer said the display of the attitude when it had involved a duo that stayed in the same houses as the victims could be detrimental to the investigation.
“In terms of the two people who were in the house, staying in the same house as Joshua Hilmy and Ruth Sitepu, they were not interviewed until a week before they appeared before this honourable panel, three years later [after the report was lodged].
“So imagine the criticalness, if there was any criticalness in timing as the result of the disappearance, any advantage to be gained from that has been absolutely lost,” he said.
According to Ruth’s family lawyer Philip Koh’s submission, the two witnesses Grace Thangamalar and Josiahnandan’s statements were only taken on February 11, 2020 — despite the couple’s enforced disappearance being reported on March 6, 2017.
The two witnesses were the children of Joshua’s friend Peter Pormannan who resided in the same house where the couple were last seen prior to the disappearance, Koh told Malay Mail.
He added that Grace and Josiahnandan had lived in Joshua’s residence as they were studying in Petaling Jaya, and the couple’s place was nearer than their parents’ place in Klang.
Joshua and Ruth were last seen at their house in Kg Tunku, Petaling Jaya on November 30, 2016.
Apart from the two witnesses, Khoo said the statements from Joshua’s brothers Huzir and Firdaus Hanim were also only taken almost two years after the police report was lodged.
“So to try and classify this as a speedy investigation would be doing injustice towards ‘speeding’,” he added.
Khoo later concluded saying Malaysia needs to have a legislation recognising enforced disappearances, to ensure that investigations into such cases will be conducted properly.
“I think that we do need to have legislation that addresses enforced disappearance because it has been seen to happen with respect to Pastor Raymond Koh and Amri Che Mat, it may have happened here, we don’t know.
“But at least if we have the law in place, at least we have some legislation that will guide us. And then the authorities, police or other law enforcement agencies would be able to stand guided by what are the elements of the crime, what to look for and what to investigate.
“At the moment we appeared to have nothing to go by, so what we have seen was sadly a very shoddy investigation,” he added.
Koh and observers from Indonesia’s Commission for the Disappearance and Victims of Violence (KontraS) agreed today to conclude their statements by saying that Joshua and Ruth must be declared as victims of enforced disappearance as defined in Article Two of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED).
Under the Article Two of ICPPED, enforced disappearance defined as “deprivation of liberty by agents of the State or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorisation, support or acquiescence of the State followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation or a concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law”.
Despite that, Senior Assistant Commissioner of Police Ahmad Dzaffir Mohd Yussof today told the same inquiry that the police had concluded that the couple were merely missing, and were not victims of enforced disappearance.
“Throughout this hearing, not one witness or statements presented managed to clearly prove that this disappearance was done by a person or any parties.
“The police investigation for the disappearance is proceeding, and the investigation has yet to be finished,” he said.
Today’s session for final oral submissions was chaired by former Court of Appeal judge Datuk Seri Mohd Hishamudin Yunus, Sarawak Suhakam Commissioner Datuk Madeline Berma, and fellow commissioner Jerald Joseph.
The panel said that a date for them to present their findings and recommendations will be set at a later date, which has yet to be confirmed.
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.