by Maneesha Kaur Khalae
Today, Malaysia guarantees religious freedom to all its citizens. A special moment in its history helped cement the secularism that it prides itself upon; the drafting of Article 11. After all, post-colonial Malaysia was witnessing a new era of rapid modernization. The newly enlightened populace had finally shed the sticky chains of imperialism by embracing modernity and secular ideals.
This was mostly the case until an unassuming pastor came along. Skinny to the point of being gaunt, with a handlebar moustache and gentle eyes, Pastor Raymond Koh does not seem like a particularly dangerous man. But around 10:30 PM on February 13, 2017, he was kidnapped. 62-year-old Koh was driving alone on the Jalan SS4B/10 in Petaling, Jaya when a band of unknown persons in three large SUVs, a sedan and on motorbikes, forced his silver 1990 model Honda Accord (number plate: ST5515D) to stop, according to his wife, Susannah Liew Sow Yoke in an article for Free Malaysia Today.
Pastor Koh was targeted for what has been described as a kidnapping with ‘military precision’. He does not appear to have links to drug lords or even criminals, nor loan sharks. He is a decent, middle-class man with three children and a wife. And also, unfortunately for him, he holds a passion for Christianity that ran too deep for the comfort of some.
Koh first made Malaysian headlines in 2011 when he was accused for converting Muslims to Christianity through his ‘Harapan Komuniti’ (which translates to The Hope of the Community). This led to Selangor’s Islamic Religious Department (Jais) raiding an event run by him at the Damansara Utama Methodist Church, but due to inconsequential evidence, these claims could not be proved. He received at least one death threat following the incident and also received a bullet in the mail. Several Muslims later lodged police reports against Mr Koh, claiming he had tried to proselytize Muslims. The Star reported that “a police report was lodged by a few individuals alleging that Koh and two others went to Kangar, Perlis, on Jan 19 and Jan 20 to influence a group of youths to convert to Christianity.”
Perhaps, the worry and concern over Pastor Koh’s disappearance would not be so great had there not also been reports that another pastor, Joshua Hilmy and his wife Ruth, have been missing since November of last year. Koh’s disappearance has forced Malaysians across the world to revaluate the religious freedom that their government promises. Even as candlelight vigils in his support become prominent, there is a growing concern: Is this the beginning of encroachments of Malaysian secular rights in favor of religious autonomy?