Two very worrying trends in Malaysia may have come together: the rise of religious intolerance and the use of murder as a political weapon.
The well-organized kidnap and disappearance of a Chinese Christian pastor, Raymond Koh Keng Joo on Feb. 13 in the middle of Petaling Jaya, a suburb of Kuala Lumpur, was clearly driven by his promotion of Christianity. His disappearance and the lack of any news or ransom demand suggest he has likely been killed and his body disposed of. If so, whether his corpse was blown up in the manner of Altantuya Shaaribu, the pregnant Mongolian model and translator murdered by then-Defense Minister Najib Razak’s security personnel, or in a drum of concrete like 1MDB investigator from the Attorney General’s department, Kevin Anthomy Morais, or otherwise, remains to be seen.
What is clear is that the broad daylight morning kidnap operation was brazen and highly organized. Witnesses and a video posted on-line reported that three large SUVs, two following cars and two motorcycles were involved, with masked men holding up traffic, blocking Koh’s car, seizing him and bundling him into one of the vehicles. Witnesses reported that there were at least five abductors, who were driving black 4x4s, and that one of them calmly filmed the incident. The operation of less than a minute took place just 100 metres from a police complex.
Despite the evidence of witnesses and the video, the police have made no progress either in identifying the kidnappers or tracing the victim. Koh’s family has offered a RM100,000 (US$22,500) reward for his safe return but there has been no response. It is not clear how much effort an increasingly politicized police force has invested in finding Koh and his kidnappers.
CCTV catches abduction
Koh was viewed by some Christian groups as being too high-profile for his own good given the rise in Muslim fanaticism in what is supposed to be multi-ethnic, multi-religious nation. In 2011 Koh was accused by the Selangor Religious Affairs Department of trying to convert Malays to Christianity. However, the issue was dropped due lack of evidence.
The kidnap and possible murder coincides with the introduction into parliament by the head of Parti Islam se-Malaysia (PAS) leader Abdul Hadi Awang of a long-delayed bill to increase the powers of sharia courts which in turn could lead to the introduction of hudud, seventh-century Islamic corporal punishments including amputating limbs of thieves and stoning to death of adulterers, more likely, in this society, adulteresses while their lovers walk free.
Although the bill is unlikely to become law, the massive 1Malaysia Development Bhd. scandal, in which as much as US$1 billion of public funds is suspected to have flowed into Prime Minister Najib Razak’s bank account, and other scandals besetting the prime minister are making him ever more susceptible to trading religious intolerance for support at the polls, a scenario that the rural-based PAS is only too happy to take advantage of.
Although an absurdly skewed electoral system makes a nonsense of democracy in Malaysia, Najib has become increasingly ruthless in his treatment of critics and is open to all methods of keeping himself in office ranging from asking Chinese state companies to help to bail out 1MDB and Muslim extremists who claim they represent Malay interests but in practice like to impose medieval Arab forms and dress on Malays.
The fate of Koh is evidently meant as a warning to non-Muslims. In the context of Peninsular Malaysia, where Malays are deemed to be children incapable of making their own decisions about religion, it is also a racist message to the non-Malay 30 percent of the population: leave us to our intolerance or we will punish you.
In the longer run, it may also be a message to the peoples of more tolerant Sarawak (where only 33 percent are Muslims) and Sabah that they do not belong in a nation whose political leaders rely on religious bigotry for their survival.