I did not want to write about this new development in the Pastor Koh abduction case but seeing as how the state security apparatus is unusually forthcoming about the progress of the investigation, it would seem that speculation is warranted, especially since the IGP has released extremely sensitive information about the case.
When I wrote about this case a couple of months ago, what I did was an attempt to make sense of the case and the way how the state security apparatus was investigating this case. Like many people, I was asking questions that are only asked when the state security apparatus is suffering from credibility issues.
I made two points in that article: (1) “What I do know is that this is atypical for a kidnapping in Malaysia. I have no idea why the state security apparatus was slow to acknowledge this. The literature of kidnappings in Malaysia is clear-cut. Personal and financial motives are the norm, and ransom paying as the means of resolution is commonplace.”
(2) “Why do I get the feeling that the kidnapping of this individual is just another symptom and that nobody is interested in addressing the cause? I may be wrong, and there is ample evidence in my opinion pieces that I never had a problem in publicly stating when I have been wrong, but this case reeks of something sinister.”
Why would the IGP release details of the case to the general public before informing the family of Pastor Koh? To be fair I have no idea if they have informed the family, but one would assume that they would inform the family as part of the investigation by interviewing the family and associates of Pastor Koh if there had been any contact between the members of this syndicate and the abducted pastor.
Secrecy would be crucial as to not to alert other members of this syndicate and to preserve evidence obtained from suspects and other persons of interests of this new development. By alerting the public to this new development, members of the syndicate would learn that they have been compromised, that evidence linking them to a specific high profile crime has been discovered and that associates of theirs have been arrested by the state.
This is perhaps one of the most high-profile cases in Malaysian history. Though the authorities would deny it there are racial and religious overtones to this case because of the way how political parties have gone after Christians especially Christian evangelicals. Rumours are swirling of not only Pastor Koh but also how the state has handled this case and the manner in which the pastor was abducted.
By revealing information that the Pastor was under surveillance by this syndicate and the license plate of the vehicle the pastor was driving when he was abducted, the state seems to be laying the ground work that these are not merely “leads” but a breakthrough in the case. Again if you are building a case, why release such information and compromise the case.
Apparently the most important leads – the license plate and photos – were retrieved after the shooting from the house of the suspect. This begs the question if these syndicate members were on the radar of the state security apparatus for major crimes then why were they not aware that this syndicate was surveilling a pastor in a major city?
If the implication is that Pastor Koh is in some way involved with this syndicate, then why is it that the Pastor was not himself on the radar of the security apparatus, who were apparently aware of the criminal activities of this group?
In other words, a syndicate which had been on the radar of not one, but two special crime divisions of the state security apparatus managed to in broad daylight, carry out a kidnapping in a high-risk environment, all without the knowledge of the special crime units assigned to investigate them?
We are talking about major crimes here, and if the Pastor was either somehow connected with this group or was a target of this group, then surely the state security apparatus would have some inkling as to who kidnapped pastor Koh and why.
As it is, by releasing this evidence all it does is throw up more questions not only on Pastor Koh – which is unwarranted because the man cannot defend himself against rumours – but more importantly on the conduct of the state security apparatus when it comes to dealing with criminal syndicates.
The release of this information is detrimental because it creates two narratives that do nothing for the peace and stability of this country, which is what the state security apparatus is supposed to maintain.
The first narrative is that Pastor Koh is in some way connected to this syndicate. People who are willing to buy into this narrative will use it as a means of further demonising the Christian community and wallowing in the kind of stereotyping that is part of the toxic religious discourse in this country.
The fact that the pastor cannot defend himself against such allegations and it left to his grieving family to possibly counter the rumours spread by interested parties further muddies the waters in this case.
As it is the alternative media, social media and various groups have been turning up the rhetoric when it comes to this case. The only way to counter these claims is to carry out the investigation in a professional manner and have the public relations department of the PDRM in close contact with Pastor Koh’s family and correct any misconceptions in a credible manner.
The second narrative is that the state security apparatus is part of a sinister conspiracy – is there any other kind ?– in the abduction of the pastor, in fact, the IGP “warned” people not to spread these falsehoods in one of the press conferences of the abduction.
The reality is that by their own words and deeds the state security apparatus has diminished their credibility and volunteering such sensitive information about an ongoing high-profile investigation merely adds fuel to the fire of the various conspiracy theories floating about in social media.
Ultimately even when the case is solved, people will retreat to these two narratives because of the way how the state security apparatus handled this case. The IGP was wrong to release such information. He does a disservice to the investigation and to the PDRM but more importantly, he does a disservice to the family involved.
S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.