Cops only interviewed close witnesses years after Joshua Hilmy and wife reported missing

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Very shoddy investigation by the police.

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.

Miera Zulyana

Ruth Hilmy’s sister, Ram Ram Elisabeth Sitepu and her younger brother Iman Sitepu holding a picture of Ruth and her husband Joshua Hilmy.

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 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 forced disappearance 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 was 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

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 places 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.

Koh also submitted that the disappearances took place immediately after a speech by a then senior special branch officer at KDN Complex, Kuala Lumpur, in Nov 2016.

The lawyer claimed that the speech, delivered during a seminar on terrorism, had alleged that while the Malaysian government was busy looking at terror groups like Islamic State, it had forgotten the “real enemies” like “Christian proselytisers and Shia converts”.

Phillip claimed that the speech had alleged that due to the then abolishment of the Internal Security Act (ISA), the authorities had to resort to extra-legal means to deal with alleged proselytisation to the Malay community.

The lawyer pointed out that following the speech, Amri – an alleged Shia convert – was abducted on Nov 24, 2016, then Hilmy and Sitepu were last seen on Nov 30, 2016, then Pastor Koh was abducted on Feb 13, 2017.

Phillip contended that the disappearance of Hilmy and Sitepu is enforced disappearance by the state due to the couple’s involvement in the proselytisation of the Christian faith.

Pastor Koh was also allegedly involved in Christian proselytisation.

At the close of inquiry today, Suhakam said that they would need time to deliberate on a decision and would inform parties on the verdict date.

The Suhakam inquiry first began on Feb 18, 2020.