The Suhakam Inquiry

This was published on March 6

On the 3rd of April 2019, Suhakam will tell the nation whether and to what extent it believes the Malaysian government, in particular the police force, is responsible for the disappearances of Amri Che Mat, Raymond Koh and Joshua and Ruth Hilmy.

Today the Inquiry panel received the clarifications it had sought from four parties who have participated in the hearings. These are (1) Counsel (lawyers) appearing for the families of Amri and Raymond, (2) Suhakam officers, (3) the Bar Council and (4) the police.

I’ll describe some key conclusions we can draw about the cases of Amri and Raymond. This post runs to about 3,000 words. Please feel free to scan the text in bold and read the details only of what interests you.

AMRI CHE’ MAT (based on key points presented by Datuk David Morais for Amri’s family)

First, three witnesses saw a boxing-in operation conducted by three vehicles on Amri’s car. This indicates abduction. Police interviewed one witness immediately, the second a year later (and now say they cannot find him – though he’s right under their noses). They didn’t interview the third witness.

Although the police continue to classify Amri as a disappeared person rather than an abducted person, there is much evidence that his disappearance is at the behest, assistance or blessing of the state, in particular the police force.

Three men claim to have witnessed what appears to be his abduction. One of them, Syed Amri, described Amri’s car being boxed in by three dark four wheel drive vehicles. What he saw was so unusual that as soon as he got home he described to his father what he had seen. Another, Saiful, a restaurant operator, said he saw one of the presumed abductors draw a gun – he was so alarmed by this that he shuttered the doors of his restaurant.

Amri was interviewed by the police within days of Amri’s disappearance. Saiful was interviewed only a year after the police were made aware that he too was a potential witnesses – the interview was conducted after the Suhakam Inquiry was announced. Another witness who was together with Saiful at the material time was neither interviewed nor called before the Inquiry.

Saiful was issued with a warrant to appear before the Inquiry, but did not show-up. For this, he was charged in court. He did not show up in court either. Today a Senior Police officer (DSP Nuzulan), in response to a question put to the police by Inquiry Chairman Dato’ Mah, said Saiful “could not be located.” Two men from Perlis who were seated beside me muttered “we see him every day.”

Second, Amri’s car was abandoned by persons who took pains to hide themselves.

Amri’s car was found by a witness (a security guard) who observed a four wheel drive open back truck “with men on it who were trying to avoid being identified” driving away from an isolated location.

The guard immediately went to the location. He discovered a car (Amri’s) with shattered windows. He quickly made a police report. He deduced that those who departed the scene “suspiciously” must have brought Amri’s car and abandoned it there, thus indicating that Amri’s disappearance involved other actors – as also suggested by the observations reported by the two witnesses noted above.

Third, Amri was under surveillance before he was abducted

A workshop owner, Vee Yak, testified that Amri may have been under surveillance 3 days before his disappearance, including by a person in a gold-coloured Toyota Vios with registration number PFC 1623. (The persons in the presumed “surveillance team” were acting so suspiciously that Vee Yak wondered if they might be re-possessors targeting one of the vehicles in his workshop. He therefore recorded the registration number of one of the cars – the Vios.)

Fourth, lack of forensics on Amri’s car.

The police say only one partial print was found in the car. Astonishingly, the police didn’t think to challenge this supposed finding of the forensic unit despite the fact that the car had broken glass, had documents and stickers removed and had been in daily use by Amri’s family.

Fifth, targeting of Syiah Muslims by the police and the religious authorities.

A national fatwa was issued against Syiah in 1996 and the Inquiry was shown a pattern of activity and scrutiny of those suspected of Syiah activities from 1996 till 2016 when Amri was abducted.

Also, dichotomy within the police is evident. ASP Razman said Amri had been investigated for Syiah activity but no evidence was found and the case was closed. However, DCP Awaludin Jadid said evidence of Syiah activity by Amri and Perlis Hope had in fact been found, thanks in part to his wider network of informants (compared to Razman’s).

Awaluddin claimed Perlis Hope was a front for propagating Syiah teachings. Today the Inquiry was reminded of a remark by police anti-terrorism chief Ayob Khan that “identifying me as a Syiah amounts to calling upon Salafists to murder me.”

Awaludin met with Perlis Mufti Dr Asri (“Dr Maza”) weeks before Amri’s abduction. Soon after that meeting Awaludin made a “rivers of blood” speech in which he, lamenting the repeal of the Internal Security Act (ISA), called upon NGOs to work with others to take matters into their own hands to halt both Syiah activity and “Christianization.”

It was noted that while the police told the Inquiry they could not act against individuals or groups in matters related to religious doctrine, the Perlis Mufti told the Inquiry the religious authorities couldn’t act either, despite the matter being one of “national security.”

Shockingly, photos of Awaludin’s meeting with the Mufti, posted on a Facebook page controlled by the Perlis Mufti, provide evidence that Awaludin showed the Mufti and his team a slide which included a photo of Amri’s home. The Inquiry was not provided with minutes of the meeting, but both Asri and Awaludin said Syiah were discussed as a threat to national security.

(The Awaludin/Maza meeting was on 7 October 2016; Awaludin’s “rivers of blood” speech was on 6 November 2016; Amri’s abduction was on 24 November 2016.)

Sixth, the police can’t locate their employee of 18 years who owns the gold Toyota Vios PFC 1623

Within days of Amri’s disappearance the police learned that the car with registration number PFC 1623 did in fact match the general description given by the eyewitness who had recorded the number. This eyewitness, Vee Yak, had connected the Vios to a surveillance operation which is highly likely to be connected with Amri’s abduction.

The police learned that the owner of the Vios worked for the police in the police college (Pulapol) in Jalan Semarak, Kuala Lumpur. The police “rapidly” concluded – and still maintain – that the car is not connected to Amri’s disappearance.

Claiming secrecy in an ongoing investigation, the police refused to reveal, to the team of lawyers acting for Amri’s family, the identity of the owner (and his connection with the police).

It was only after police Sergeant Shamzaini – in a furtive, nocturnal visit to Amri’s wife in her home in Perlis – asked Amri’s wife Norhayati to instruct her lawyers to probe the police (Inspector Khor) about the car and its location in Jalan Semarak that the police revealed information about the car and its owner.

Mysteriously, about a month after the Suhakam Inquiry began, the owner of the car, Saiful Bahari, ceased coming to work. In March 2018 the police did not renew his contract of employment.

The Inquiry panel asked the police to locate Saiful Bahari. The police responded that despite their best efforts, they are still unable to locate Saiful Bahari.

An employee of the police for 18 years, presumably with many friends in the police force, “has vanished like a phantom” and the Malaysian police can’t find him. This despite the fact that the road tax and insurance on his car are still “alive.”

Only one conclusion can be drawn: the police do not wish for Saiful Bahari to be found. Their motive is to hide the truth about the abductions.

Seventh, Norhayati has provided an accurate account of Sergeant Shamzaini’s nocturnal visit.

Shamzaini is the nocturnal visitor mentioned earlier. What he said to Norhayati (Amri’s wife) was recounted by her in a police report. Days after she made the report Shamzaini made his own police report in which he denied her version and gave his own version. This was discussed by the counsel acting for Raymond Koh’s family, so I will discuss it below.

Shamzaini very likely back-tracked because of pressure placed upon him by his superiors and also because he operates a business without written approval of his superiors as required by established policies.

Note: Though Shamzaini’s version of events hinges on him operating a vehicle repair business in Kedah which he wishes to relocate (and expand) in Perlis, the Inquiry received no substantive evidence to corroborate his claims about business activity.

PASTOR RAYMOND KOH (based on key points presented by Datuk Jerald Gomez for the Koh family)

Before Dato’ Jerald presented his points, Dato’ Dr Gurdial Nijar addressed the Inquiry on “the legal effect” of using evidence taken during the Amri hearing to support the Raymond case. He did so as requested by the panel of Inquiry.

Dato’ Gurdial made references to the Evidence Act and the Suhakam Act as well as to several cases which serve as precedents. His central themes were (1) evidence must be allowed if its omission would result in “an affront to justice” (2) the Amri and Raymond cases were convened as a composite cluster, (3) there were similar witnesses and (4) the same counsel appeared across both cases.

It is worth pointing out that though the “reasonable suspicion” rule is used during the Inquiry to draw conclusions, the Inquiry often attempts to use the more demanding “beyond reasonable doubt” rule which is used in the courts.

Dato’ Jerald’s points were selected to support his contention that Raymond Koh’s abduction was either at the behest of the state or state actors or with the acquiescence of the state or state actors.

First, the modus operandi of the abduction was “police style.”

The abduction involved seven vehicles, fifteen abductors including a videographer and was completed in under 40 seconds.

The abductors demonstrated division of responsibility and dress. For instance, some were “in plain clothes,” so they could identify themselves to other police officers who might attempt to intervene, while others were in “standard gear” which included concealment of identity via the use of balaclavas (head/face coverings). The vehicles used were black SUVs very similar to those used by the police.

The abduction was executed in similar manner as the abduction of the Sultan of Kelantan in 2010 when one part of the force, “the Sultan’s detail” was protecting the Sultan while another part of the force abducted him.

Second, DCP Awaludin encouraged NGOs to take direct action to end Christianization and promotion of Syiah practices and he discussed Amri with the Perlis Mufti before Amri’s abduction.

I discussed this under Amri above, so I will not go into it again here.

Third (& fourth), CP Huzir in Bukit Aman, co-ordinated and directed the “investigation” of the 3 cases (Amri, Raymond, Hilmi & Ruth), despite his denials. And fourth, Huzir’s STAFOC team likely planted photos as evidence.

The head of the Ops Jejak Paderi Task Force, SAC Fadzil, told the Inquiry that he met at least three times with CP Huzir who was coordinating the investigation of the three cases. ASP Supari, the Investigating Officer in the Raymond Koh case, said he had met Huzir and received instructions about the case.

Huzir however told the Inquiry he was neither coordinating nor giving instructions concerning the three cases. Huzir lied.

It is hard-to-believe it is coincidental that Huzir was in charge of a special operations STAFOC (Special Task Force on Organized Crime) team which claims to have discovered photos of Pastor Raymond Koh in a second search of the Kg. Hulu house of Fauzi Tajuddin whom the team had shot dead in Baling, Kedah.

Note: the STAFOC team was disbanded in late 2018. Home Minister Muhyiddin Yassin is reported to have said that the reason for disbanding is so that “the public [will] retain their confidence and trust in the police force.” (The Star, 27 June 2018) According to another report, “Allegations of corruption have been levelled at the [the taskforce] introduced during Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s administration. (Malay Mail, 03 July 2018).

It is likely that Huzir’s team planted evidence in the Kg. Hulu house in order to change the narrative of the Koh abduction into one of human trafficking – though the person who was shot dead was initially alleged to have run a drug and arms smuggling operation, with no mention of human trafficking.

Datuk Jerald went into considerable detail about the discrepancies in the evidence about the items recovered in Tajuddin’s house. I’ll just give an overview.

These include (1) false recording of the name of the officer who received a related police report, (2) obvious discrepancies in handwriting on a list of items seized – indicating two persons wrote it –although one officer (Hazril) claims to have recorded the entire list, (3) evidence of ex-IGP Khalid that members of Tajuddin’s group were involved in Koh’s abduction and the Malaysian police were collaborating with Thai police vs. (4) Koh Investigating Officer ASP Supari’s evidence that he is not aware of any such involvement or collaboration, (5) failure of the police to satisfactorily explain discrepancies in the house number of the residence where the items are said to have been found – is it house #71 or #76? As Chairman Mah pointed out, one is a wooden kampong house on stilts, while the other is a brick house.

As I listened, I recalled what I wrote on 23 November 2017, Day 11 of the Koh Inquiry:

As I listened to the evidence being adduced, I recalled what Justice V T Singham said about Khalid in his decision on the case of death in custody of 22 year old Kugan in January 2009. Singham found that Khalid had made false statements about the case to the media and that Khalid had tried to cover-up what really happened. He wrote, in paragraph 22 (page 64) of his judgement:

… the evidence of [Khalid] when considered together with the evidence of [other officers] tantamounts to suppression of evidence … This court wishes to state that no person, be it in any position, status or rank, when testifying in court should take this court for granted and attempt to suppress the truth with the view to escape liability.

The second is that despite his previous testimony, the SAC now agrees that the wife of suspect Fauzi Tajuddin who was shot to death in Kedah was never brought to Selangor for questioning. How is it possible that the head of the task force in a high priority case can’t remember whether his team questioned the sole woman suspect in the case? Does he even realize how bad this makes him look?

The third was aptly described by Chairman Mah as “the one big question mark in the RK case.” The head of the task force is clueless about how the four pieces of evidence allegedly found in a search of the home of shot-to-death Fauzi Tajuddin are connected to the abduction of the pastor. These items are a photo of the pastor, a photo of his residence, a photo of his car and a number plate bearing the registration number of his car.

Fifth, Norhayati’s report of Sgt. Shamzaini’s visit is a lot more credible than Shamzaini’s version.

As soon as Shamzaini left after speaking with Norhayati late one evening at her home, (1) she made phone calls to her friends in Perlis Hope during which she repeated what Shamzaini told her – as corroborated by her friends who provided evidence to the Inquiry; (2) she made a hand-written record of what Shamzaini said to her – a record which was provided to the Inquiry panel as an unplanned submission – even her counsel had not seen it before the panel saw it; (3) Norhayati’s daughter verified much of what Norhayati said because she too listened to Shamzaini.

The information which Norhayati gave the police in her report of what Shamzaini said to her includes information about transfers and retirements of police officers – information which Norhayati or any member of the public has no other means of obtaining. Evidence taken from police officers confirmed that the information about the police officers is true.

It was the information provided to Norhayati by Shamzaini which led to a breakthrough in the case: the gold coloured Toyota Vios and the police (contract) employee, Saiful Bahari, who owns it and subsequently disappeared without trace, as described earlier.

Sixth, the gold-coloured Toyota Vios PFC 1623 and its mysteriously un-locatable owner Saiful Bahari who worked for the police for 18 years.

I discussed this in the Amri section above, so I will not provide an extended discussion here.

The fact that Saiful Bahari was not brought to a police line-up for potential identification by Roshan who witnessed Pastor Koh’s abduction is astonishing since the police were aware from (1) the viral video, (2) a description provided by Roshan and (3) other undisclosed CCTV footage that a gold Vios featured in the abductions of both Amri and Raymond.

Note: The police did ask Roshan to work with a police artist to produce a photo-fit of the driver of the Vios but Roshan was unsuccessful.

The evasiveness of the police over the Vios, their resort to the OSA to withhold information and their unwillingness to produce Saiful Bahari is a damning indictment on their complicity in the abductions of both Amri and Raymond. This is especially so in light of the fact that the police themselves have said the two cases may be connected – supposedly the reason why Huzir “co-ordinated” the investigations.

Seventh, the police tried to use Lam Cheng Nam as a red-herring to derail the Suhakam Inquiry.

Before the Suhakam Inquiry was announced, “Lam Chang Nam was charged with extorting RM30,000 from Jonathan Koh Szu Hao, 33, for the release of the pastor” (The Star, 16 March 2017). The charge was made after Investigation Papers were compiled by the police, submitted to the Attorney General’s Chambers and subsequently accepted.

Raymond Koh Task Force head SAC Fadzil told the Inquiry “Investigations revealed that the suspect had nothing to do with the case and only tried to take advantage by extorting the victim’s family” and IGP Khalid told the Inquiry “the man was not involved in the pastor’s abduction.”

Before SAC Fadzil was due to provide evidence to the Inquiry the police informed the Inquiry Panel that they had opened investigation papers against counsel Dato’ Jerald Gomez for purported falsification of evidence.

That was an obvious threat against the family’s team of lawyers, a threat designed to “encourage” them not to probe SAC Fadzil – who, it appears, wishes to distance himself from false associations (by his superiors) of Koh’s abduction with a smuggling ring, claims of supposed collaboration with Thailand and other far-fetched fabrications.

What next?

The police told the panel today that they will, by Monday next week, make one more written submission in which they will address the points raised today by counsel for family, Suhakam officers and the Bar Council.

Note: In the interest of brevity I have limited myself to reporting what counsel for the families said since the others – apart from the police – concurred with what the family counsel said.

Chairman Mah said the panel will announce its decision on 3rd April 2019.

Rama Ramanathan is a member of the Citizen Action Group On Enforced Disappearance (Caged)

First published in Rest Stop Thoughts.

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