It has been over one month since the disappearance of Malaysian Pastor Raymond Koh, whom family and friends believe was kidnapped because of his interaction with Muslim Malays.
Police have arrested a suspect in the kidnapping but have not released any information about Koh’s possible whereabouts.
On Sunday, March 5, hundreds of Christians around Malaysia held candlelight vigils in solidarity with Koh’s family. Holding candles and signs reading, “Where is Pastor Raymond?” and, “Let Raymond go,” the people prayed for the pastor’s safe return.
“We pray for his safe and quick release,” said his wife, Susannah Lieu Sow Yoke, as she broke into tears. “At this time we look to God and [hope that] he’ll be safe and we’ll meet him again.”
The morning of Feb. 13, while Koh was on his way to a friend’s house in Petaling Jaya near Kuala Lumpur, three black SUVs surrounded his car and forced it to stop. Nearby closed circuit TV cameras captured video of masked men getting out of their cars and walking toward Koh. A struggle appeared to take place in Koh’s car before all of the vehicles left the area. The whole event took less than a minute, and Koh has not been seen since.
The family offered a $22,500 reward for information on the pastor’s whereabouts, but so far none has surfaced.
The news shocked Malaysians, with the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, and Taoists releasing a public statement that read, “News of [Koh’s] abduction have fanned fears across all religious divides in Malaysian society, as it is unprecedented for a man of faith to be abducted in this way in our peaceful, multicultural country.”
Koh, 62, led an Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA) congregation in Malaysia for 20 years before starting the ministry Harapan Komuniti in 2004. The group helps single mothers, drug addicts, and people suffering from HIV/AIDS. It also holds an after-school program and English tutoring for students. Harapan Komuniti doesn’t discriminate against whom it helps, and many of the recipients of its aid are Muslim Malays.
In 2011, the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais) raided a thanksgiving and fundraising dinner hosted by Harapan Komuniti at a Methodist church. The religious police were concerned Koh was trying to proselytize 12 Muslim Malays who had attended the dinner, but they ended up dropping the case for lack of evidence.
A friend of Koh, (who wished to be anonymous for security reasons) said that after the 2011 raid, many Muslim Malays were angry with him. They sent a bullet to his home and stopped by his house to ask him to leave the country. They passed around his photo, calling on Muslims to kill him. In an interview with Malaysian newspaper The Star, Koh’s son Jonathan said that since 2011 “we have been evading them. We have been moving around. We also received a lot of death threats on the internet. We have people following us.”
Police are investigating a link between the kidnapping and the threats against Koh. The arrest in the case reportedly followed a ransom demand.
Islam is the official religion in Malaysia, and Muslims are governed under state-administered Sharia law. The Malaysian Constitution protects the rights of non-Muslims (including Buddhists, Christians, and Hindus) to practice their religion as long as they do not evangelize the Muslim Malays. Yet Christians have begun facing other restrictions as well: In 2014, a court upheld a ban on Christians using the word “Allah,” the Malay word for God, in publications. With Islamic police eyeing any interactions between Malays and Christians, Malays are a largely unreached group.
The division intensified recently as thousands marched in Kuala Lumpur last month in support of a bill that would impose stricter forms of punishment in the Islamic court system, which rules on religious and family matters for Muslims. Non-Muslims are tried in secular civil and criminal courts. Critics fear the bill could lead to the full implementation of the “hudud,” which includes punishments of amputations and floggings.
In early March, Jonathan filed a second police report due to fears that his father had been murdered after no new information had been uncovered. Jonathan told The Star he believes his father was kidnapped “because he speaks what he believes in and he shares his beliefs with people. … He practices without exception everything that is written in the Bible.”
— by Angela Lu